A couple Friday nights ago, my sister asked me to take her boyfriend’s 13-year-old son Adam to our office for Take Your Child to Work Day (“TYCTWD”). Adam’s dad had a conflict and was apparently curious about software. My own daughters, who had spent enough ‘day care’ time at CivicScience over the years, chose their mom’s office at Carnegie Mellon where they could play with robots and blow things up. “Sure, why not,” I said?

But as TYCTWD approached, I started second guessing myself. I’ve been around Adam a lot the past few years and he’s a nice kid; but we probably hadn’t spoken 100 words to each other. Most of the time, all I ever saw was the back of his head while it was buried in a PC screen playing Minecraft or in a tablet watching YouTube videos. He’s 13. And I’m typically too caught up in my own self-importance to force my way into a conversation with him. What the hell were we going to talk about for an entire day?

So the day before TYCTWD, I scrambled around my office, asking programmers, data scientists, and even one of our IT interns if they could spend time with Adam to get us through the day. “I know you guys are over-worked and building some of the most advanced technology in the world right now, but would you mind taking time out of your busy day to explain Javascript and machine learning to a 13-year-old?” At least that’s how I imagined it sounded.

When the day arrived, Adam’s dad dropped him off at our house and I deliberately dragged my feet as long as I could. On the 12-minute commute (Where is the rush hour traffic when you need it?!?), I laid out our agenda: First, he would spend an hour or so listening to me talk about our company. Then, I would give him some research to do while I handled a couple meetings. Hopefully that would stretch to lunch and we would go out for burgers. Then, after lunch, he would go station-to-station meeting various members of the dev team. With whatever time was left over until his dad picked him up, well, he could just play on his tablet. He was probably counting the minutes until it was over.

We got to the office, did a quick tour, and settled into the conference room. I strapped my laptop into a projector, showed Adam how our polls and quizzes work, and demoed some of the results in our system – things about McDonald’s and Burger King. In 15 minutes, I counted 200 yawns, give or take.

“Well,” I asked, “what are you interested in? We research just about everything?”

“Video games,” he responded dryly.

“Duh,” I thought.

I searched our system for questions about video games. Of the 30,000 or so poll questions we’ve ever asked, we found two that were relevant to video games. TWO questions. And they were lame ones at that. “How often do you play video games?” was one of them. “Do you own a video game console?” was the other. The video game industry is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. It’s projected to hit $100 Billion in worldwide revenue by 2018 and we have two lousy questions in our system – out of 30,000!

I asked him what he thought we should be researching.

“There are big differences between PC gamers and console gamers. You need to understand that,” Adam said. “First-person shooter games. That’s what the real hardcore gamers play. But just wait until Minecraft 2 comes out.”


He went on. “Mobile games are more popular with girls and stay-at-home moms. Puzzle games were pretty hot for awhile but they’re kind of dying.”

Before I realized it, I was taking notes like a freshman on the first day of college.

“There are really five big franchise games coming out this fall,” he explained. “I’m betting Batman: Arkham Knight will be the most popular but a lot of people are talking about Metal Gear Solid V.” I later learned that the last Batman game in 2012, Arkham City, sold 4.6 Million copies in its first week. That’s more than the best-selling music album of 2014, Taylor Swift’s 1989, sold all year.

An hour flew by. Adam’s thoughts turned to the Oculus Rift, the Facebook-owned virtual reality platform. It’s still in Alpha stage and just that day Facebook indicated that a 2015 consumer launch was unlikely. “The games still aren’t very good,” I was told. It seems “everyone” is waiting for virtual reality or “VR” to take over the gaming landscape.

At lunch, over burgers and Cajun tater-tots, I learned that there is an entire cottage industry of “video game commentators” online. They record themselves playing games, while talking about it, and people line up to watch. A 26-year-old dude from Sweden, named “PewDiePie,” has the most viewed YouTube page of all time, with over 8 Billion video plays. He reportedly makes over $5 Million a year. Five Million Dollars. For making videos of himself. Playing video games.

After lunch, Adam visited with our head designer and learned about template designs and agile product development. Then he sat with one of our best hackers, nodded knowingly, and asked thoughtful, insightful questions. I had no idea what they were talking about but Adam did. If you were born after the year 2000, this kind of technology is going to be second-nature.

The day ended almost too fast. I’ve spent thousands of dollars on industry consultants who didn’t teach me as much as I learned from a brilliant, 13-year-old kid that day. By the time our day was over, we had loaded eight new gaming-related questions into our system and riffed on ideas for several more. Adam has agreed to help us with some blog posts based on the research we started. We might just have to pull him out of school a couple more times, if we can get away with it. So stay tuned.