Candidate One of One

Blake Young, a ‘21 SET High graduate, smiles wearing his headset. He is now a Software Engineer and owner of a Tesla.

Candidate One of One

The School for Entrepreneurship and Technology (SET High) is a great place to challenge the mind and ignite a love for learning. Our tuition-free public high school attracts those who don’t fit in a rigid mold and thrive in an adaptable educational environment. Our alumni, Blake Young, shares his story about how his unique learning journey at SET High supported him on a path towards a prosperous position as a Software Engineer. Candidate One of One. We think you’re going to like this success story just as much as we do.

“I look at failure as basically, if you haven’t failed at all you’re not trying hard enough.” 

Meet Blake Young, a SET High graduate from Class 2021. Blake decided to go to SET High over other high schools because of the accelerated math, computer science and the unique and interesting electives. He knew this was a school that wasn’t going to limit his advanced learning journey.

Blake is now a full time salaried Software Engineer without an engineering degree, which is extremely rare. And when his 2001 car died, he bought a Tesla knowing that he had the income to support the payments. That’s right, this recent high school graduate is a Tesla-driving Software Engineer. He shares how it happened:

“The beginning of the story is, I like Minecraft.”

While I was in high school I tried to make mods [computer game modifications] but failed at it, and then got better at Java. At the end of senior year as Covid hit, I decided to take an old mod and remake it from scratch with the one main goal to make it faster. Performance had been an issue with this mod before. 

So I did that. I made it and it’s faster. It’s great. I then reached out to the previous developer. This guy works for Unity in performance optimization. I took his code and made it hundreds of times faster, so that impressed him. This is now my boss’s boss’s boss. Everyone that I’ve mentioned this to internally that knows him says, ‘Yeah, that’d get his attention.’

It did. He had to finagle some things internally to hire me because hiring people in the US is a little weird. Unity is a US company but he works in Canada and they prefer to hire people in Canada. Unless you’re a senior level person, they avoid the ordeal of hiring in the US because they can find a junior level person in another country cheaper. 

Me being a junior level with no degree, no previous professional experience, entirely based off of the recommendation from one rather high up employee makes it comparatively hard. He had to try and find a position that was for me only, which he did. He got me into the interview process before it even went public. I was Candidate One of One. I got in because he saw that I did actually know what I was doing.

When asked how SET High prepared Blake for this position he said:

“SET helped me take the classes that I wanted to take without locking me into a specified track and that was helpful to me.”

SET worked out well for me because I was very heavily into the engineering side of things, specifically computer science. The math there was great. Having the ability to make high school flexible and add onto it to learn what I wanted to learn allowed me to explore more things and spend the time on what I found interesting. I actually continually challenged myself. I just kept learning things and over time that was helpful. And then to have Dr. McCurdy there to answer my questions, to be a mentor, that was also very helpful.

The Learning Was Mutual

SET High was helpful to Blake, Blake was helpful to SET High. Dr. Neil McCurdy described how Blake took the initiative to find other coursework outside of SET to further challenge his knowledge within his interests and SET High acknowledged it. In addition, Blake’s interest in FTC Robotics inspired the creation of the elective course Robotics/Building Cool Stuff.

In theory I could have taught him everything that he needed to know. But there’s also the exploration side of it,” said Dr. McCurdy. “The Unity AI course material, curriculum, assignments… all of that was through an outside provider that Blake found. And I could verify that he was actually learning and doing new things that were way beyond what average students do in high school. It was easy for us to give him credit for the work that he was doing there. And the skills that he learned later in FTC Robotics, it was such a cool pursuit. He was actually trying to solve a problem in FTC Robotics that no one had ever solved before.

Learning From Failure with Passion

Dr. McCurdy shared the story of how Blake turned another personal interest into a SET High Passion Project.

Blake was in the bowling club and was really upset with the software at the bowling alley. He started a process of communicating with the owner of the bowling alley and tried to actually recreate the software the bowling alleys use. Blake used the same AI knowledge that he learned from his Robotics class to try to figure out these really interesting problems.” said Dr. McCurdy.

Blake on failure: “Failing isn’t necessarily a bad thing because if you fail, you probably learn something there.”

I look at failure as basically, if you haven’t failed at all you’re not trying hard enough. So obviously while I was in high school, I had different projects that I tried to work on. Basically all of them failed. I tried to make them all. They failed. I tried to do the FTC thing, it failed. I tried to do the bowling thing. It failed. Three years later, I took a look at this mod thing I tried before. I tried a little bit simpler approach than what I had ever tried before and I tried again. And that succeeded. So I believe in trying again.

We believe that our students discover a new love for learning when they find their inner passion and take ownership of the life they desire beyond our small tuition-free public high school. As a California Distinguished School, SET High strives to develop the next generation of makers, business leaders and innovators, in a tuition-free public high school with flexible learning journeys. Would you like to challenge your mind and ignite a love for learning? Check us out- we’re enrolling now!

About SET High 

SET High offers each student individual attention from multi-talented, highly qualified teachers. Students build a healthy camaraderie with classmates inside an intellectually rigorous environment that brings out individual talents and personality, helping develop character and direction in life. With a wide variety of electives, flexible scheduling, dual enrollment college classes and more — our students regularly exceed academic and personal expectations. Enrolling now!