This week’s installment of Decoding Genius looks at how gifted kids need not only room to blossom, but room to fail, and how damaging it can be to box them into a standard system. Even if that means letting them skip the schoolwork to build a company.
The star of this episode is Perth’s Mitchell Clark who, aged 17, is already a grand old man at the cutting edge of the cybersecurity business. He started Clarky IT when he was 10, and recalls going to a project-scope meeting with a client with whom he’d only communicated by email. That was when they found out their web whiz was not even out of primary school. Now the CEO of the more grown-up branded CIT Dynamics, and finally free of the shackles of school, Clark’s clients include US government agencies.
An obsession with IT and a drive for success—Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a personal hero—have fuelled Clark’s dedication. Even though “Clarky” was a normal, social schoolboy, he’d decided that IT was what he loved, and that a deadline for a website build had to come first. “It’s always drawing the line between doing your IT work and hanging out with your mates … there’s a few things I’ve missed out on!”
Now, he is focussed on becoming a world leader in cybersecurity, which leads to some reticence when it comes to talking about his clients: “It’s really touchy!” He is happy to talk about his passion for cybersecurity … explaining how exciting it is to be on one end of the computer watching attacks come in to a client’s website, live, and figuring out how to thwart them. “That’s why cybersecurity is really, really cool … there’s always new things … a new way to get into a system, there’s always someone trying to crack into a system, there’s always a demand for it....”
The hackers and attackers are thrilling, but youth is a drag. “Age frustrates me,” he laments, adding that he thinks it’s going to continue to be a battle to be taken seriously when he steps out from behind the email veil, “until I get to my late 20s”.
For Mitchell Clark, his brilliance in information technology has had a pragmatic focus; academia has no draw. “I’m not scared to put my mind to something that’s really big,” he says. But Clark focuses his genius on real-world problems, which are zapping a corporation or government agency’s servers right now, probing for security vulnerabilities.
If he’d been born in the US, he may have have found himself in Arizona’s Davidson Institute, a school for profoundly gifted children, serving, in their words, “the extreme of the intellectual continuum”.
In this episode of Decoding Genius, we hear from the institute’s leaders about how their elite program stops gifted minds from “rotting” in the standard education system, catering for students who need more, “whether wired differently, or brought up differently or both”. Putting all of these brilliant kids together ensures that they’re not the brightest person in the room simply because they got to school that day … it challenges them, and gives them the critical learning experience of failing.
At the other end of that spectrum are children who dumb themselves down to fit in, and we meet the mother of a gifted child, who struggled with watching her son intentionally regress as soon as he hit kindergarten. Spoiler alert: it’s a happy ending … but the journey to get there is well worth a listen—and includes elephants!
Tune in, subscribe, and be amazed and inspired.