Who said programming isn’t fun?
Not Don Hyun, founder and owner of Federal Way’s new HyCap Academy.
The after-school learning center — which provides programs in chess, robotics and programming — is designed to help kids learn about extracurricular activities other than sports.
Hyun said his life has been shaped by exploring activities that help strengthen his mind, though he does enjoy sports and both of his sons play soccer.
However, while he sees the merit in kids participating in sports and physical activities, he wants to give them opportunities to explore a different kind of extracurricular.
“A lot of parents and families put their kids into things like soccer and basketball and sports where there’s kind of a sense of glory in doing something in athletics,” Hyun said. “But I guess for me … I also think that there are intellectual endeavors that can be just as fun and as challenging and competitive.”
To start, Hyun said his academy offers three different courses for varying student ages.
First, the youngest kids will start off playing chess, Hyun said, and the ideal goal for the progression is to then move on to computer programming and finally robotics.
Hyun said the kids participating in robotics will have the chance to showcase their work in state-wide competitions as well.
According to HyCap’s website, Hyun’s goal for this academy is to promote technical trade skills in students so that they are able to have more career options and potential interests as they grow older.
“Almost every company is looking for those who can solve difficult problems. But, what is sometimes overlooked is that they are also even more desperately looking for soft skills and character to fill leadership roles,” according to the website.
Hyun aims to give students those skills with his teachings.
All of this started when Hyun realized, while searching for activities for his own children, that there were very little programs like HyCap in the area.
“If you look at all the programs that are available, say on the Eastside, you can pick from three or four different programming classes, or a whole bunch of chess places that opened up, or a robotics class,” he said. “Where is that here, where is that in Federal Way?”
He thought the issue wasn’t a lack of interest from the students or families, but more of a lack of available options.
So he created HyCap.
Hyun also wants this type of academy to allow students to explore different activities and potential career paths so they have a clearer idea of their goals and ambitions if and when they head off to college.
He said for himself, when he was getting ready to go to college he didn’t know what he wanted to do.
“I went to MIT and there I saw a robot contest and wanted to try it,” he said. “I signed up for my sophomore year and I must have lived in the lab. Pretty much until closing time I would be there geeking out on my little robot that I felt was a baby of mine.”
He found joy in learning about robotics and learning how to create things, which is a pastime he still enjoys today, now with his two sons.
“My youngest is most into the games,” he said. “He wants to make a Minecraft clone on Unity [a game creation program].”
This isn’t the first game his kids have helped make, though.
Hyun said his son also made a virtual reality game, where the gamer plays an archer whose goal is to protect a specific location in the game from a marble-like ball. So every time to ball gets closer to where the archer is standing, the archer needs to shoot the ball to keep it away.
Hyun said they actually still pull the game out to play at parties because everyone has so much fun with it.
His son is 11, and Hyun said this is proof that kids can create amazing things if they are given the space to do so.
“It’s definitely possible [everything] kids can do if you can just give them the tools,” he said.
In fact, Hyun is hoping to use gaming as a way to teach kids about programming, a skill he hopes will be beneficial to them in their futures.
“Because we have Microsoft in our back yard, there is a lot of jobs for [programmers and developers],” he said.
Hyun also wants this program to teach kids that not only is failure part of life, it’s necessary for growth and learning.
“More people lose out on opportunities because they don’t try things more than anything else.”
You will never be perfect at something the first time you try it, he said, but it’s that learning and growing and persevering phase that is most important.
HyCap Academy didn’t happen overnight, though. Hyun formerly worked for Microsoft, Amazon and most recently from Affirma Consulting as a chief operations officer.
As fun as software consulting is, Hyun started thinking more and more about transferring to part-time work to free him up to focus more on the things he enjoyed, hoping to find fulfillment in his life.
“As fun as software consulting is, and it is fun, there are things that I want to do in my life.”
So Hyun talked over his feelings with his wife, and she helped him see where his true passions were.
“She said, why would you just go part-time? If you could do whatever you wanted, what would you do?”
Hyun knew that he wanted to teach kids about the things he loved, and so he founded the academy, to the credit of his wife.
“I am very undeserving of my wife,” he said, thinking about her support in helping him create this venture.
The academy first opened its doors to students the week of Oct. 21, but interested students and parents can still sign up for classes. Hyun said right now he is running monthly classes for those who are interested in signing up.
And while the cost of these classes are not inexpensive, Hyun said he wants to focus on getting the word out so he is offering two-for-one deals if you bring a friend to join with you.
HyCap offers a limited number of need-based scholarships for students that exemplify the HyCap values and have a passion for chess, robotics, or programming. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. For more information about HyCap, visit www.hycapacademy.com.