A Lifelong Community

by Aaron Liao, former ATDP student, mentor, TA, and instructor

Aaron at his 2010 wedding to ATDP alumna Julia Jee. Congratulations, Aaron and Julia!

My name is Aaron Liao. I live in Newport Beach, CA and work for Microsoft as a Technical Account Manager and Evangelist in Hollywood. I occasionally present at conferences, give talks at college recruiting events, and share my experiences working in tech with a variety of audiences. One of my favorite stories is about my longtime involvement with ATDP.

I believe I held some sort of record for longevity as a student/instructor at ATDP and with good reason: my parents saw the immense value in the courses I took there and I never objected—I made lifelong friends and had fun, stimulating summers at the Program. I attribute a lot of my success to my exposure to a great number of things at ATDP, from the courses I took in the Elementary Division all the way through to my time as an instructor. ATDP had a profound impact on me, and I can still recall much of my time there with near-perfect clarity—little details like what I wore when I was a guest speaker at the Secondary Division Orientation, the little idiosyncrasies of my classmates and students, the smell of certain buildings in Berkeley. This is no small feat given that as we age and navigate everything that is life, it becomes increasingly difficult for old memories to stay sharp.

In 1996 I had the unique opportunity to be part of the first Internet Classroom (TIC) taught by my mentor and friend Lloyd Nebres. Web design was relatively new and groundbreaking at the time, and my classmates and I were on the cutting edge. My passion for the Internet and the encouraging team at ATDP provided me with the opportunity to return as a TA for the Internet Classroom and other courses during subsequent summers, and ultimately to become an instructor and interim department chair later on. The environment at ATDP promoted curiosity, perpetual intellectual exploration, and achievement—ideals that aren’t always easy to come by in middle and high school, where being smart isn’t necessarily en vogue. I went on to university, completed my degrees in Computer Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and worked in all ends of the technological spectrum—and I suppose the rest of the story up to this point tells itself.

Aaron and his brother Abraham at ATDP in 1997.

The part that I think really deserves additional attention is that of the wonderful ATDP/TIC community of which I remain a part. This will sound comical and make me seem very old, but back when I was in the Internet Classroom, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and the plethora of other social networking tools we have today didn’t exist yet. Email was a much bigger deal, many of us played text-based games, and 0.3 megapixels in a digital camera was incredible. Perhaps these technical “limitations” were actually beneficial; keeping in touch was harder and required significantly more effort. I still interact with some of my original peers—I have both received and provided job and internship leads to former classmates and students. We share our stories of triumph and defeat, exchange gossip, and continue the tradition of learning from each other that we shared during those summers at ATDP. Whenever I get the chance to talk about my experience with ATDP (right now, for example), I clear my schedule and try my very best to put together the nouns and adjectives that will do my experience justice, which is not an easy task. What makes this easier is knowing that if my story doesn’t paint an adequate portrait of ATDP and TIC, there are many other fascinating students and alums with their own stories that can help fill in the gaps.

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