Humans of Harker: Mapping the unknown

Daniel Wang appreciates the possibilities of the world

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Nicholas Wei

“I feel really good about myself when I’m relaxed and enjoying the world. There’s so much to learn about the world and so many ways to do so,” Daniel Wang (’21) said.

From a young age, Daniel (‘21) was interested in geography and the outdoors, exploring hidden trails around California while hiking with his family. His keen memory and creative mind latched onto every natural landmark, from oddly shaped trees to babbling brooks and waterfalls. As a young child, Daniel wanted any chance to keep exploring, even if he was not always physically outdoors.

“I would sit for hours on end, staring at the world map in my home, pinpointing unique locations like the Amazon rainforest, a cluster of islands off Oceania or the middle of the Arctic Ocean and daydreaming about what those places were like in real life,” Daniel said.

From there, his enthusiasm reached new heights. He joined the National Geography Bee, memorizing first the capitals of all the world’s countries, then moving onto learning specific facts about each unique location’s cultures, languages, religions and customs. By age 10, Daniel had won second place in the state level of the National Geography Bee. Eventually, he continued this passion in high school by participating in the U.S. Geography Olympiad.

“In preparing for the Olympiad, I had to learn various technical aspects of geography like estimating the speed of tsunamis, or estimating when a volcano would run and other more calculation-based parts of geography,” Daniel said. “After the Olympiad, I realized I wanted to apply my geographical knowledge to actually help the world.”

As a volunteer for an organization called OpenStreetMap, which contains an open source map of the world, Daniel incorporates his passion for coding with his passion for geography. His volunteer work entails using satellite images to add geographic information onto maps in order to help humanitarian organizations to get a better understanding of remote and underdeveloped areas of the globe.

To Daniel, coding is an integral part of his life, often teaching him worthwhile lessons. As head problem writer for the Harker Programming Club (HPC), Daniel has set up various coding competitions for girls around the nation and has led other writers in creating their own code and solutions.

“When one problem writer panicked because she couldn’t solve a peer review problem, I first read through the problem with her and interpreted the wording so that she would understand what the problem was asking,” Daniel said. “Then, I taught her how to create a memory array in her program, and ultimately she was also able to successfully solve the problem. Even though this was a very challenging experience for all of us, we ultimately succeeded in our goal by working together and staying calm.”

Through leading these groups of often nervous problem writers, Daniel had to learn to remain relaxed in the face of anxiety and use his logical and methodical approach to problem solving. By doing so, he was able to not only write complex problems himself but also help his team do the same.

“What I got most out of this experience was firstly that it helped me enhance my own leadership abilities by leading the team to something that was very monumental, and also that it taught me that even the most challenging problems have solutions,” Daniel said.

Sidra Xu (’21), friend and fellow member of HPC, notes his compassion and willingness to help those around him.

“Of course I admire his expertise with STEM, but even more I admire his down-to-earth attitude towards others,” Sidra said. “When I ask him physics or [computer science] questions, he leads me step by step through the solution. He’s a great mentor to new officers in HPC, guiding them through the challenges of learning how to write complex contest problems and helping to integrate them into the team. Plus, he gives off this aura of comfortable silence and ponderous musing, which makes spending lunches and down time with him really relaxing. It’s a calm niche amid the hectic schedules of a normal school day.”

Ultimately, Daniel’s hardworking demeanor and inquisitive nature mixed with his quiet personality help him observe the world through a different lens. He relishes in the idea of the world beyond a first glance.

“I feel really good about myself when I’m relaxed and enjoying the world,” Daniel said. There’s so much to learn about the world and so many ways to do so.”