Michael McCormic, Jr.
BATTLE GROUND — As he sits quietly on the edge of the classroom, Mackinnon Buck appears just as ready as his peers to graduate from CAM Academy. Squeeze a few words out of him, and you may realize that he is likely much more prepared to receive his diploma than most of his classmates.
As a self-taught computer programmer and tech whiz-kid who has excelled in animation, programming and robotics competitions, Buck’s dreams for the future can be described in only one word: ambitious.
For over six years, Buck has been fascinated with computers and programming. He took interest at the age of 12, and one year used his birthday money to purchase a textbook on C++ programming, which he read and learned over one summer.
“His initial curiosity is what led him to research programming and discover this whole world that was available to him through writing code,” Mackinnon’s mother, Rhonda, remembers.
Buck’s parents rightfully wanted to ensure that he received an education that would allow his talents to thrive and grow, a desire that ultimately led them to enroll both Mackinnon and his brother Everett at CAM Academy, an academically rigorous alternative school based in Battle Ground. The brothers enrolled in CAM academy in fifth grade, one year apart from one another.
“The teachers are really supportive,” Buck explains. “They have allowed me to interweave my interests with the course work.”
While it is true that the opportunities to pursue his interests have benefited Buck’s life goals, his work has, in turn, assisted his school. For a senior English project, graduating students were expected to spend 25 hours on a community service project. Recognizing a need that the school had, Buck decided to spend his service project hours creating a mobile app that would allow students and parents to view online information that was otherwise inconveniently difficult to access when using a mobile device.
“I made the app as a mobile friendly way to access content from the website,” he tells, humbly leaving out the part where he spent 50 hours more than was required on the project and made it open sourced for the school district to use for other schools, should they choose to do so.
“He showed tremendous initiative with his senior research project in building his CAM app to make something usable to help the school actually be able to communicate better with parents and parents to be able to access information easily about CAM,” says Diane Harpe, Buck’s English teacher who oversaw the project.
Harpe also commented on Buck’s interactions with his fellow students, saying, “He’s a natural leader. He just leads by example, not necessarily by being loud and obnoxious like some people are when the lead. He’s somebody that other kids can look up to and see how they should be.”
Though one might not assume based off of his quiet demeanour that Buck is a skilled leader, he has led the Cloverbots robotics team to an international competition and currently works for Autodesk, a multi-billion dollar 3D software company. He started there two years ago as a software developer, but was promoted to the position of project manager for their Synthesis project.
On his robotics team, he not only serves as the team leader, but also as the lead programmer and an operator for the team’s creations. The “Cloverbots,” as the team has come to be known and loved by the CAM students and faculty traveled to Houston this year with their 15 to 20 man team made up of students from across the county to compete with over 400 robotics teams from around the world. With Buck at the helm as team captain, the team was able to secure a division semifinalist title.
While his employers at Autodesk were hoping for him to stay and continue training the company’s incoming programmers, Mackinnon has his sights set on university and beyond. He applied to Stanford University, University of Washington, California Polytechnic, Washington State University, and Oregon State University, and was accepted to all but Stanford. Buck ultimately chose to attend Cal Poly because he believes the program best fits his life goals.
“It was a close decision between Cal Poly and UW, but I chose Cal Poly because at Cal Poly you go directly into your major,” Buck explains. “In addition, Cal Poly has a hands on learning curriculum, which is how I best learn.”
Beyond his bachelor’s degree, it should be no surprise that Buck’s future goals do not stray from the ambitious ones he has thus achieved.
On the subject of his career path, Buck says, “I hope to work at some sort of software company like Autodesk, where I work now, or possibly Google or Microsoft.”
His mother, however, tells a different story. “His desire is to own his own company; to design his own product and take it to market,” she explains. “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know that Mackinnon will continue to follow his passion and seek God in all things, and just trust whatever the outcome brings.”
To Buck’s mother, the words that she remembers the most and holds the closest to her heart was the response he gave to her when she suggested he get a job at sixteen, even if that meant flipping burgers.
“Mom, I will be paid to do what I love,” he said.