Humans of Harker: Kevin Xu solves nontraditional problems


Melissa Kwan

“People might describe me as a troll,” Kevin Xu (12) said. “I guess being lighthearted is a good characteristic to have in general. I’ve naturally been pretty friendly to people, and they’ve returned the favor to me. I just think a lot of my relationships are built off that personality—being lighthearted and empathetic.”

by Andrew Chang, TALON Organizations Editor

Kevin Xu (12) leans over the Foosball table on Shah Patio, expertly controlling his players. A crowd of seniors gathers around the table to watch the long periods of back-and-forth as the plastic ball careens from one side of the table to the other. As the defensive player, Kevin might seem like the lesser threat—but with a few skillful maneuvers and an aggressive flick of the wrist, his player strikes the ball into the opponent’s goal. Playful smirk on his face, he slides the score marker over one more point.

“[Kevin] has a very unique strategy,” his close friend Jerry Chen (12) said. “He compliments the other team to excession, and it kind of flusters them. He’ll be like, ‘He’s so good at Foosball,’ or ‘He’s insane,’ or ‘ No one can get past his impeccable defense,’ or ‘I can’t score on him.’ This, combined with Kevin’s own natural ability, has given him his almost undefeated record.”

Some know him as “the guy who’s good at Foosball.” Others know him as “Vinke” (pronounced “vin-kay”), a humorous anagram of “Kevin” that started in freshman year and stuck. His easygoing attitude and rapport with his classmates make it easy for him try new activities, even those that don’t come as naturally to him as Foosball.

“Usually, if it’s something that’s not too serious, if it’s something I can afford to take a chance with, I just go in and dive headfirst,” he said.

Kevin applied this philosophy to interests ranging from dance to computer science.

“I was watching Silicon Valley one day, and you know how they have the app ‘Hot dog or no hot dog?’ Basically, the app would let you upload a picture of anything and it would tell you if it was a hot dog or not,” Kevin said. “I wanted to do something similar but with fruit ripeness, so you would upload an image of anything and it would tell you if it’s a fruit and how ripe the fruit is.”

Kevin’s spirit of trying new things enabled him to expand on the material taught in his classes in creative ways. Beginning in his AP Computer Science class his freshman year, he found that the logic behind the subject came naturally to him.

“All of this coding and all of this math was really intuitive to me,” Kevin said. “Things just clicked. That’s what really gave me the confidence to keep going and to just broaden my projects in their ranges.”

From fruit ripeness to fantasy football, Kevin’s research generally involves pattern recognition in real-life applications. He uses his statistics knowledge to his advantage when playing fantasy sports, even devising an Excel spreadsheet to automatically take statistics from a database and generate a list of the best players to draft for that season.

“I just began to see things through numbers,” he said. “A lot of the research I did was really applicable to my life in terms of things I did. Healthcare, even bananas, or projects like that I did. As I started to look through those things through numbers, I started to look through the rest of my life through data.”