Breaking Barriers with Braindates—at 17

Joyce experienced something extraordinary in 2018. Here’s her story.

Categories in News & Features, Success Stories

I can only describe my first day of C2 Montréal as an interesting failure.

I had never been to a conference before and had no idea how to make my limbs look less awkward when trying to talk to new people. Whenever I went up to someone, I would forget how to introduce myself and start overcompensating for my nervousness by being overly energetic.

Looking back, I attribute my awkwardness on that first day to feeling like I wasn’t sure what I might have to offer to anyone, or if I had anything to offer at all. Whoops….

***

I am a 17-year-old who is passionate about neuroscientific engineering through the intersection of brain-computer interfaces and multi-biometrics.

I hope to find a way to use EEG signals as security authentication, which will revolutionize the way that people approach security.

Eventually, I hope to connect my current neuroscientific research with the field of cognometrics, which is the link between brain-computer interfaces, multibiometrics, and the field of medicine.

This is what brought me to C2 in 2018.

Photo courtesy of Joyce Truong

In May 2018, I travelled to Montreal with the The Knowledge Society, a program for high school students whose mission is to develop the next-generation of activators that will solve the world’s most important problems.

Two of the teens in the program had been invited to C2 as speakers, to represent the “6 Under 16” category, and a select few of us were invited to enjoy the conference as well.

At the time, I was working on my own biometric systems and papers. The creators of the program, Navid and Nadeem Nathoo, recognized my passion and enthusiasm for revolutionary technology, and asked me to come along.

At the start of my C2 adventures, I had heard of braindates, a supposed form of networking in which I would get the rare opportunity to talk to and get to know professionals during a 30-minute conversation.

To me, anything to do with networking at that point felt like a matter of life-and-death. All I knew about a braindate was that it seemed like a blind date, but for the purpose of gaining and sharing knowledge rather than love.

Although talking to someone and being expected to produce some sort of value seemed terrifying, it also seemed like the perfect way to get over my fears.

The best part: everything on a braindate is (basically) set up for you.

You can RSVP and confirm your attendance easily, and the atmosphere where braindates happen is casual and relaxing. There’s also no risk of wasted work, because you only put in minimal effort to book your meetings, for the chance at a great payoff. So, I decided to push myself out of my comfort zone and arrange some braindates for day two and three of C2.

1-1 braindate at C2 Montreal 2018

My first braindate went… terribly.

I accidentally joined a one-on-one braindate for QA Testing… without knowing that QA stood for “Quality Assurance.” Needless to say, the discussion was a whole lot of nothing, even though the person I met with did genuinely try to make conversation with me. I was really disappointed. I immediately wanted to cancel all of my braindates — but I resisted that urge.

I arrived for my next braindate 15–30 minutes early. I met other people at the lounge who were waiting for their braindates as well.

Here in the Braindate Lounge, I had amazing conversations — about everything from independence, to political instability, to good restaurants in Montréal. These small conversation helped me build up my confidence and it wasn’t too long before I had the first braindate that blew my mind.

I have always been a big fan of Wattpad, a platform that allows users to create their own stories and read those written by others on the platform (like Instagram, but for writing). So when I saw a braindate topic posted by someone who worked at Wattpad, I joined immediately regardless of what the topic was. Luckily the organizer did ask for input from a student.

Walking into the meeting, I had no idea what it would be like. As someone who had been a part of the Wattpad community for over five years, I expressed my love for the platform and an interest in their user experience.

This was the first braindate where I felt like the other person really valued my input.

The tone felt of our discussion felt conversational, rather than interrogative. Tim, the person I met with, was really lovely to talk to and it was fun to obsess about their platform!

My next braindate was even more memorable because of the knowledge that I gained from it. Its because this time, I was actually asked about the work I was doing, and was able to bring up my experience in exponential technologies.

For once in my life someone with way more experience than me also happened to be impressed by me.

What’s more, he then referred me to a friend of his who was working on her thesis, which happened to be about machine learning, to help me with data gathering. I ended up speaking with her after C2 and was able to redesign a more efficient data gathering process — all of that by the end of a 30-minute Google Hangouts call!

a group braindate at C2 Montreal 2018
A group braindate in action

I had other braindates — but the one that stood out as my favorite was with Jeremy, who completely saw past my adrenaline, straight through to my nervousness. It was scary to realize that he could see through me, but as a result, I was much more real with him than I was with my other braindates.

Jeremy asked me a simple question, “Do you think that you are an introvert or an extrovert?” I told them that I was extroverted because I liked talking to other people, but they told me that they thought I was introverted right away — all based on the fact that he believed that people can enjoy talking to people, but if it drains their energy, then they are, at the end of the day, introverted.

Dan Arley at C2
Dan Arley takes a photo with Joyce (second from right) and friends.

I then told him that I try to be overly energetic or “extroverted” because of the insecurities I have about my young age. Instead, Jeremy told me that he was amazed by what I was already doing in my teenage years, something that many people are unable to do until they’re in their adulthood.
This was what made him intimidated by me — he wished he had accomplished as much as I have by the time he was my age.

After that moment, any assumption I had about being the “less valuable” or having “nothing to offer” because of my age changed forever.

I realized that intimidation always goes both ways and that adults can also be nervous when in a networking situation.

I still keep in touch with all of these people. They’re happy to speak with me and guide me in my endeavours, all of which I am happy to do for them as well.

I have grown to realize that people do not care about your age or your experience. All they want to know is who you are, what you do, and what drives your passion. I added value to others just as much as they added value to me. This would have never happened if I did not schedule braindates and have a few interesting failures to begin with.

I spent the rest of C2 going on braindates, even giving up my spot at the Snoop Dogg talk to have more! After C2, I started going to meetups in Toronto, trying to speak with those older than me and branching out beyond my own network whenever possible.

I would not know as much about technology, nor would I be challenging my thinking on simple topics like introversion versus extroversion without my experience with braindates and e180.

Whether it is officially organized by e180 or you choose to stop someone you encounter on the street, having any conversation for a few minutes with someone can completely change the way you look at things and make you all the wiser about the life you choose to live.