A lesson on ‘how to work as much as possible’ theory to win the race with life
Interview with the Romanian „beautiful mind” Ionut Budisteanu.
Scientific innovation is thrilling. There are young innovators who can – and truly want to – use their intellect to make life better for all. Ionut Budisteanu is one of them. Twenty-one year-old Romanian computer scientist, who won the Gordon E Moore grand prize at the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for his low-cost, self-driving car, has participated in more than 150 such competitions. His goal is not to be rich and famous. “I want to do something positive for the world,” the IT genius born on Romania’s National Day says. And besides this atypical modesty for our days, Ionut is constantly questing life’s challenges.
When did you get into this world of IT, science, computers…?
When I was three, I sat at the computer to play some games and then, little by little, I started to like informatics. In the 7th grade, I wanted to make my own 3D movie, being inspired by Lord of the Rings, but I found out that although there is technology, it was hard for me to put into practice what I was reading in magazines and I haven’t had that artistic spirit also. Then, I passed to another level by attending in competitions having my teachers’ support and by reading university courses. I have been programming for ten years, for four – electronics and I have several projects that I’m working on. The latest one is an industrial robot which produces electronic components, a project that I have been working on for about three month. I want to release it next spring on the internet, on kickstarter.com, the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects. It was a challenge launched by a Chinese company and made a few months ago, following my participation there. I have recently submitted the project at Gaudeamus book fair and I also built a website called www.visionbot.net. I have three business plans with this project: to sell it on kickstarter.com with USD 2,500, then, through www.visionbot.net to make a production line for engineers and last, but not least, to use these mechanisms for producing higher-level devices.
And now you are a student of Bucharest University, Faculty of Mathematics. I know you have been offered by several famous international universities. Why did you choose to stay in Romania?
I have done many things in Romania. Having the opportunity to attend to various competitions abroad, I realize there is the same potential in my country, too. The appreciation that I get from universities abroad is based in fact, on what I have learned here in Romania. I received an offer from a college in United States of USD 40,000 when I was in high school and which is still available, but I declined it for the moment. Maybe I will attend a MSc of one year or two abroad, but then I get back in the country.
Definitely you were tendered by world IT companies…
Yes, I have received several offers. One of them came from Google Switzerland, interested by a program to protect the banks which I invented. It’s about a device meant to recognize criminals wearing balaclavas attempting to rob ATMs and immediately send warning signals. But I don’t want to become just one of thousands of programmers working on a minor project. I want to learn working at my projects. I’m advocate of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory – 10,000 hours of work to become an expert. I wish to get those 10,000 hours to learn and become a professional in my field. I was not interested in selling my projects, but in learning as I was working on them.
Your publicizing in Romania has increased lately, after when you won the Gordon E Moore grand prize of USD 75,000 at 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) for your low-cost, self-driving car concept. Why do you think this has happened yet so late?
Initially I was known better following Forbes’ ‚30 under 30’ youngest powerful people top 2014, but that was due to all the projects I have done in Romania. Maybe this international acknowledgment is necessary. We live in a globalized world and you shouldn’t compete only with Romanians or to be the best in Romania. Each of us has to wish to be the best in the world, me, for example, I compete with everybody in computer science. In the end, the biggest competition is life. I want to work as much as possible to win that race with life.
Have you been supported by the authorities in all your projects?
I have built over 50 projects and most of them have been materialized due to all Romanians support, not necessarily by the authorities. The stake was to gain more knowledge in my interest field, to learn programming techniques. All the projects I worked on were based on a challenge. Also, I like to know that I’m seen as a model for other youngsters. In their support Prime Minister Victor Ponta launched “Young Researcher Scholarship” dedicated to high school graduates with excellent results obtained at international Olympiads or innovation competitions contests, that I have also received. I also was supported by the local authorities in Ramnicu Valcea, my hometown, but I was helped by the private sector as well, through Dan Voiculescu Foundation.
Have you ever lived a moment when you would have rather hidden the fact you are a Romanian?
No, I was never ashamed to be Romanian. I just had moments when I was disappointed that some Europeans labeled me wrongly and they left themselves influenced by prejudices which probably comes from envy or just from the idea that they don’t know anything about this country, not even geographically. When you have no knowledge, you immediately speculate things that just pass by your ear, without checking them. Also, because I’m coming from Ramnicu Valcea county, I’ve been often associated with the idea of hacking, because Ramnicu Valcea is somehow perceived as a hackers’ nursery. I tried to inspire and give them the chance to come to Romania and see that there are smart people here, too. My dream is to create all kinds of electronic devices mankind useful and about which should become famous Romanian brands. I want that, when you say <Ionut Budisteanu> to tell <Romania>, because I really represent my country proudly. I wish to become a university professor who, by the knowledge that I have and I will continue to gain, to change the world for better. From my point of view, Romania has changed very much and has leaped many stages. Everybody expects changes, but they have been already made. You just have to open your eyes to see them and to realize that abroad it’s not just another Romania. The fact that I was born on December 1 made me love my Romania even more.
Sunt atat de mandru de Ionut incat nu stiu cum sa-l mai laud.