The Lego robot was given clear instructions, but West Alspach and Devon Roberts’ contraption had a mind of its own on Wednesday.
The wheeled gadget was supposed to stop after hitting the yellow line taped on the floor, but it would turn, at one point spiraling away and flapping its front part up and down.
“It’s refusing to win,” said Alspach, a 12-year-old from northeast Minneapolis.
Her partner, Roberts, a 12-year-old from White Bear Lake, was more passionate, shouting in frustration when the robot didn’t follow instructions after he’d fiddled with the program on the computer.
Their robot didn’t run as planned, but the goal of Best Buy’s two-day Geek Squad Academy camp at Minneapolis Central Library wasn’t perfection; it was exposure for the 100 campers to the fast-growing tech field.
The Geek Squad Academy camp, in its eighth year, has expanded to 26 cities this year after hitting 20 cities in 2013. It brings together students ages 10 to 18 to explore and experiment with technology. Geek Squad agents and other Best Buy employees staff the camp, and Best Buy absorbs camp costs. The programs are usually free to students selected by the nonprofits to attend.
Minneapolis’ camp was backed by several nonprofits including libraries, the YWCA and Urban League, who also recruited the campers. About 20 Best Buy employees staffed the camp’s courses, which included 3-D printing, digital music and film.
“To be a part of creating opportunities and empowering their future success is something that I think sits right in the middle of the Geek Squad culture and ethos,” said Chris Askew, Best Buy’s president of services.
Geek Squad Academy took over the second floor of Central Library Tuesday and Wednesday. The lingo at Geek Squad Academy is colorful — campers are called “junior agents” and wear orange bracelets on their wrists, which unfold into flash drives. Most of the staff are Geek Squad agents.
This year is the 20th year of Best Buy tech support Geek Squad, and the company has about 20,000 agents in the field, Askew said.
Sarah Osk is a Geek Squad agent in Chicago who taught the 3-D printing class. She got her start after attending Geek Squad Academy at her high school in 2007.
“It’s how I got started in computers — I was a junior agent, just like them,” she said.
She started working at Best Buy in 2009 and became a Geek Squad Agent in 2010. Osk drove eight hours to camp in Minneapolis, and is heading back to Chicago to teach camp there next week.
“From there, I just fell in love,” she said.
Female instructors such as Osk are role models for girls at the camp, said Andrea Wood, senior manager for community relations at Best Buy. The gender breakdown at the Minneapolis Geek Squad Academy was about 60 percent male and 40 percent female, said external communications director Jeff Shelman.
Teen Tech Center still open
The field seems ripe for more students. Computer and mathematical occupations are projected to grow by 22 percent from 2010 to 2020, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report in 2012. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects above-average job growth from 2012 to 2022 for software developers, database administrators and computer systems analysts.
Campers can continue to refine what they learned at the Central Library, in the Best Buy Teen Tech Center that is equipped with a recording studio, a green screen for filming, a 3-D printer and several computers — all for free, and open to teens who sign up. It’s part of the network of Computer Clubhouses that bring tech resources to public places to give access to students who otherwise wouldn’t have the exposure.
On Wednesday campers Andrew Ramlet and Max Shriver were working on SketchUp The 15-year-olds, both from Golden Valley, But Shriver, who attends Hopkins High School, said that because not enough people are interested in coding, classes aren’t offered. He’s been doing computer programming at home and hopes to pursue a career in it.
Roberts left robotics class a few minutes late, held up by his malfunctioning robot. Despite the robot’s mistakes after he and Alspach spent the class programming its actions, Roberts was ready to try again.
“Once I download the program, I’ll be able to do that at my house,” he said.