In which David McKinnon uses “Tracky Dacks” in every day conversation
Beth went to UNSW with David, running into him in different classes here and there, but she properly met him over Southern Summer last year when he interned at Microsoft (with crazy blue hair, of course!). His willingness to climb trees and show off dramatic cinematic poses made this shoot exactly the kind of thing Beth loves doing (Dona – you’ll be glad to hear I didn’t climb any myself!).
Tell us a little about you.
I’m in my fourth year of university, studying Computer Engineering and Mathematics at UNSW (where I’m in our Robocup SPL team, aiding the robots in their inevitable revolution against muggle humanity). I saw the UNSW robolab during an Engineering open day shindig when I was in high school, and fell in love with robots. To be stuck in a lab playing with robots all day is literally a dream come true – my degree is currently at the best it’s been yet and I love it. Robots are just so cool – mechanical, electronic and programming challenges all mixed together in a package that looks so freaking awesome when it works.
Outside of uni (university) I am a bagpiper and a unicycler, and before you ask, yes, I do do those things simultaneously. Two of my life goals are to
a) become a famous bagpiping unicycler with flamethrowers (I’ve met the Unipiper, and he is my inspiration)
b) create a bagpipe rock band.
I also enjoy reading, learning about rationality and psychology, mountain climbing, snowboarding, swordfighting and acting.
Tell us about what you’re wearing.
For years I searched for a long black leather coat before finding this one in an op-shop (thrift shop, for our American readers) just next to Microsoft’s Bellevue campus, and I just had to have it. Whilst the Australian heat renders it mostly impractical, in winter it
a) keeps out rain, wind, knives, bullets, …anything, and
b) just looks awesome and makes me feel like I’m in a movie. (Something similar here)
The boots are Doc Martens, and also came from an op-shop, but this one in Nowra, Australia. These are yet another piece of my “I’m in a movie” winter ensemble. Sure, they look chunky, heavy, and are hell to lace up, but I still take any excuse to wear them. (Something similarly bad-ass here)
Everyone seems to have a huge problem with wearing cargo pants instead of jeans, like that they look bad or make you lose friends or whatever. IMO they are the most comfortable long pants aside from tracky-dacks, and since they have so many pockets and are still nice and loose, they go perfectly with the coat. They’re Eddie Bauer, and like the coat I got them in Seattle, from the Redmond outlet. (Something similar here)
My friends have this joke that I own no plain t-shirts – they are all movie/book/STEM jokes/references – and, well, this is true. I have an enormous collection of joke shirts, and am proud of what it has become. The black knight one is one of my two favourites, and came from Redbubble (who are going to get so much money from me when I get a job).
The Ring – well, it’s the One Ring. ‘Nuff said.
How did your style evolve to what it is now?
I used to just stick to black everything – hoodie, pants/shorts, plus the joke shirt – but then when I got to uni and started expanding my movie character costume wardrobe I discovered that there were other fun things to wear – like long coats. Nowadays I’m going to second Matt McEwen – Form Follows Function. My clothing tends to be based foremost on what is most useful (hence the cargo pants – enough pockets to hold anything and everything I own), and then secondly on what I think fits the mood. Bright, sunny, day? Shorts, perhaps, and a Hawaiian shirt, or white joke shirt. Dark and gloomy day? Coat, cargo pants, darker joke shirt.
More recently I’ve discovered the joys of styling one’s hair, and trying to fit a deliberate look – like you’re from a movie. Currently my hair is blonde-streaked, which is the aftermath of purple dye. Previous hairstyles I’ve been through are a massive ponytail, then that all blue, a Ned Kelly-style beard, various goatees, plaits, etc. My hair is now really where my style shows.
Watches are something I’ve always felt are fantastic – far quicker to check the time than getting a phone out of your pocket. As a teenager I always just had cheap digitals from a department store, but now I’ve moved to something with a bit of quality. All my joke watches have died, so now I’m in a mechanical watch phase. Why? They are excellent in every way: batteryless, wind-up, with a flywheel so that wrist motion recharges it – excellent efficiency – but they also look swanky and awesome.
Any advice for a young person thinking about getting into a STEM field?
Create your confidence
Don’t say “I’m not good enough”! I suffered for years from a lack of confidence in my abilities, but interning at Microsoft did a lot to bolster my confidence – firstly just receiving an offer, then being thrown in the deep end there with a mentor who took no excuses; I just had to knuckle down and solve problems.
This I got through, and now I hear many of my friends say, “Oh, I don’t think I’m good enough for that”, or “that sounds really hard, I couldn’t do that”. You know what? Maybe it is hard, but giving up early isn’t going to help! Try things, be ready to learn, and don’t be afraid of failure.
Most importantly, take the opportunities. You’ve got to be proactive for this, it’s not enough to just wait for things to come to you.
Don’t let poor experiences deter you
It always saddens me when I see someone not enjoying what they work on – I’ve friends at uni who do not enjoy some of their elective subjects. I’m fortunate to be incredibly and deeply motivated to work in robotics, and further robotics research, and to see others come into what is my passion and just be crushed and disappointed is really saddening. The worst part is that generally their poor experiences stem (hah!) from poor teachers, awful projects that are just not fun, or other people at the time giving them a bad experience.
I’ve had many a poorly taught class on a subject I love, so I’ve learnt (the hard way) to not let that stop me – sometimes if you push through and get past that bad teacher, or that awful project, the area can be amazing. I love computer vision, but that was one of the worst-taught classes I ever had. So, please don’t let a poor experience define a field/topic/area – you may really love it beyond that one bad teacher or project.
What is a really common misconception about tech or STEM fields that you’d like to clear up??
I’ve had a lot of people seemingly put off my field of CS or mathematics after they see me geeking out over something or remember what they’ve seen on The Big Bang Theory or The IT Crowd, and then think we’re all specky, pasty basement-dwelling anti-social geeks who don’t have any other interests. That impression is just blatantly wrong, and this blog is living proof!
I thoroughly enjoy my work – getting robots to do things is hard work, but very rewarding when you see it move and talk to you. But I also have many other interests that are far from STEM – mountain climbing, snowboarding, parkour, bagpiping, acting- as do many of my STEM friends. Tech is a passion for many, but it is not the only defining thing in someone’s life (if it’s defining for them at all)
We are diverse people who exist outside of our work. Don’t let stereotypes let you think otherwise.
What would you say is the project you’ve done that you’re proudest of?
Hmmm, tough one. One of the ones I’m most proud of and think I can go far with is the tune I helped arrange for me and my band. After many an hour watching the same youtube clip, and then more work with one of the band members with a good ear for tone, I managed to write the theme song for Game of Thrones for the bagpipes, and now play this, whilst riding a unicycle.
Another is my bagpipe cover for Muse’s Knights of Cydonia, which will be one of the star songs when I start my own bagpipe rock band. To see one of my pet projects (that started out as just a laugh) be a tune that my current band plays at our gigs is fantastic, and the cheer that we get for those tunes is immensely gratifying.
What is the best way (if any) for people to follow you on social media?
Facebook is the best way to actually contact me, but I also have a blog of my internship adventures that may well be filled in more in future, as well as a small-but-very-slowly-growing youtube channel of my unipiping adventures, The Bagcycler.
OMG, how can we resist a man who uses the word “tracky dacks” in every day conversation. From his unipiping to his say-it-all t-shirts, to his awesome hair choices, to his vintage hunting, we are simply enamored by David’s style and awesome storytelling prowess. We also thank him a million times over for proving again that just because you love STEM does not mean you’re a “specky, pasty basement-dwelling anti-social geeks who don’t have any other interests” — though that is just fine too!
Dona & Beth