Proud Indian Paarth K. Sharma is a 12th grade student at Shanghai Singapore International School (SSIS) and a founder of the Build Your Own School (BYOS) technology organization. They are currently running the BYOS Innovators Tournament 2022, inviting the brightest young minds in China to think of innovative, feasible and impactful product ideas that will aid our society during COVID lockdown. We caught up with the impressive 18-year-old to find out more.
When and why did you found BYOS?
Back in November 2019, just two months before the world would suffer the largest virus outbreak of this century, BYOS was born. Along with a few friends, I began Build Your Own School (BYOS), as a technology organization that would stimulate change and interest in new and emerging technologies.
At that time, my friends and I were all in the 10th grade or below, and we knew very well that we were no geniuses; we didn’t have coding skills, mathematics prowess or an analytical brain powerful enough to create actual ‘breakthrough technology.’ That task was reserved for companies like Apple, Tesla and Samsung.
However, we knew that we had the ability to create certain products that would at least spark interest in the community. The one tough decision we had to make was which emerging technology would BYOS become the ambassador of? We chose Virtual Reality.
If you’ve tried a proper VR experience in the past, you know what I’m talking about: the feeling of entering a massive new world while standing on the surface of your own room… that’s Virtual Reality.
Whether it’s flying in space, sliding beneath a dinosaur or doing a nuclear chemistry experiment, you can experience it all inside a Virtual Reality experience.
In BYOS, we’re always fascinated by how VR technology allows us to realistically experience what is supposed to be ‘un-experienceable.’
With that said, our BYOS mission statement, since day one, has been “Accelerating the Advent of Virtual Reality in our Community.”
No fancy words there, just a simple goal – getting VR to be the hot topic in as many places as it can be. Since then, we have achieved quite a bit in that field.
What kind of things?
From November 2019 to December 2020, the BYOS team of six incredible students – Rahil, Gleb, Sastra, Joon, Akshat and I – worked day and night to achieve our goal. That goal was to create a Virtual Reality tour of our entire school campus, which a user could play with inside a VR headset.
After learning four new industrial software from scratch – SketchUp, Unity, Blender and Twinmotion – our team got skilled enough to digitally model each and every item in our school campus, then texturize it, render it, code it and calibrate it to make a full VR experience.
After 14 months of grueling – but fun! – work, we held a launch event in our school, with cumulatively more than 600 people, to showcase our achievements. We led SSIS to become the first school in Shanghai with a sophisticated VR tour of our campus!
Whereas other schools boasted a Google 360 camera tour, we didn’t use any 3D cameras or photo-taking devices. We built our school environment from the ground up, with every pixel being pure software. BYOS is proud of that.
In the last 16 months, this has become reason for us to be invited to several major events, such as Maker-Faire Shanghai 2020, where we were one of the most popular booths, attracting 1000+ spectators cumulatively.
We were also the only student club to host a workshop at the Teacher’s ACAMIS Technology Conference 2021, where we shared our vision with leading educators on how essential it is that VR be integrated into education.
And you also have a podcast, tell us a little bit about that.
After our period of accomplishments in the software side, the team felt that we needed to do something that involved the community more. Something that could be easily consumed by the average person, somebody who isn’t interested in coding, programming or using a clunky VR headset.
That’s when we began The BYOS Podcast, an official technology podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and six more global platforms. Through this podcast, our goal was to reach a larger audience, so we decided to broaden our focus, and talk all-tech, instead of specialize in solely VR.
In our first successful season, we produced seven episodes, out of which three of them featured highly accomplished technologists who sat down with us to talk about their involvement with technology.
Amongst our guests was a managing director of a consulting firm, a software engineer who is building his own R2D2 robot and the STEAM Head of an international school in Shanghai.
Our podcast is a place for students, teachers, geeks, nerds – or whatever the adjective of the person is – to listen to how emerging technologies are affecting our lives.
We are going to be producing Season 2 in a few months, in which our priority is to bring the spotlight to the students of Shanghai. We are going to be inviting numerous students this season to talk about their relationship with technology.
You can be a coder, a gamer, even an anti-technologist. As long as you believe you have something exciting to share with a global tech audience, feel free to contact us (BYOS.firstname.lastname@example.org) and we’ll have you on the show.
Tell us about the BYOS Innovators Tournament 2022.
In light of the resurgence of COVID-19 in China and Shanghai, it has come to the attention of society that we must always be prepared for the worst. This tournament’s objective is to allow the brightest young minds in China to think of innovative, feasible and impactful product ideas that will aid our society during COVID lockdown.
It could be a drone that delivers food, a new breed of hazmat suits or a type of testing kit – the choice is yours. Without the pressure of actually manufacturing the product, this tournament will allow the candidates’ imagination to run wild to create the much-needed solutions that our virus-strained society needs.
The grand winner of this tournament is going to win a free and exclusive summer internship (this summer) with a Forbes Top 50 tech company – Tech Mahindra!
Furthermore, the top 5-10 candidates will also be invited onto The BYOS Podcast; in each episode we will be featuring one of our candidates, delving deeper into the ideas that they submitted for the tournament.
We have already had 42 students from all over Shanghai sign up. That’s 42 new ideas on their way already! We want as many students as possible to take part, and we encourage you to register ASAP before the registration deadline of April 25.
And we might very well feature a lot more than just 10 students on our podcast too!
Are you part of any other initiatives?
If talking about technology, I was invited by TEDx to give a talk on Virtual Reality a few months ago, which has got to be one of the most exciting experiences in my high school life!
I was also gladly accepted by HTC Vive as a summer intern during the summer of 2021, where I created VR lessons for schools in Hong Kong.
I’m also big fan of MUN (Model United Nations), having attended over 12 conferences in Shanghai and Singapore in the last few years as a delegate.
Apart from extracurriculars, I haven’t spread myself thin with too many other initiatives, as specializing is better than generalizing. But I do play the drums, watch Marvel movies and hangout with my friends outside school, at least when not stuck in a lockdown!