After the prestigious Millennium Prize gala of yesterday, MY Campers had a chance to meet and greet Linus Torvalds from Finland and Dr. Shinya Yamanaka from Japan, the scientists who split the 1.2 million grand prize.
On the same row with Linus Torvalds. Photo: Sakari Tolppanen.
“It does happen that you make a huge mistake but it turns to your advantage,” said Millenium Prize Laureate Linus Torvalds to MY Campers. In fact at the beginning of his career, a mistake made him develop through personal user experience his innovation that led to Linux kernel, which today is used by millions if not billions of people worldwide.
“Having creating an operating system I was crazy. But sometimes doing the crazy thing is encouraged. Maybe you want to find your own thing to be crazy for,” Torvalds said.
According to his own words Torvalds, at the age of MY Campers, was a typical nerd, spending his time on what he knows best and loves, programming.
Torvalds, who is now married and a father of three, said he wasn’t exactly an attractive youth so he didn’t spend his time dating. Instead he spent it on computers. “It was rewarding, even though nothing worked,” he said.
The Laureates Torvalds and Yamanaka. Photos: Sakari Tolppanen.
Also Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who shared the Millennium Prize with Torvalds said that mistakes are a key to success. In his field, biology, the success rate is something like 10 %, so failure in inevitable.
“Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. The worst thing you can do, especially when you are young, is to do nothing,” he advised the campers.
As a youngster, Yamanaka did not focus his attention on one single field. He was interested in science, but also played sports and music. “I still try to take as many approaches as possible to answer a question and sometimes all of them fail,” he said to the campers.
He got the prize for his pioneering work in creating a method through which normal skin cells could be reprogrammed to function just like embryotic stem cells, which can divide and produce any kind of cells in the body.
The method would end the ethical dilemmas of stem cell treatment, which could cure many diseases and injuries. Today, to get stem cells the embryo has to be destroyed.
Autographs. Photo: Sakari Tolppanen.
“Linux has already changed the world, but our technology is still very young and we have not yet been able to help any patients,” Yamanaka said. Originally he trained as a surgeon, but did not consider himself very talented in it.
“Even very good surgeons cannot help very many patients, so I decided to reprogram my life,” Yamanaka said. He had a vision and the work to find the six factors needed to reprogram a cell took six years.
“Without the young scientists this could not have been possible,” Yamanaka said and introduced his team.
Discussing with Laureates in Aalto University. Photo: Sakari Tolppanen.
Both Yamanaka and Torvalds have studied in their own countries, Torvalds at the University of Helsinki. MY Campers most of whom are about to enter the academic world wanted to know how much the choice of university will influence their future career.
Torvalds explained that even though it does matter from which university you come from especially in the US, it is also important to be able to show that you are a good developer. “You can show you have done real work before, open source is good in that.”
The campers also wanted to know, what kind of help the laureates got for their projects when they first started. According to Torvalds, in computing all you need is a computer and an idea.
Yamanaka’s answer was the nature. “It is the most important teacher. In many cases how to solve the problem, we can ask colleagues and teachers, but many times nobody has answers. We get a lot of hints and try something and see how the nature responses.”
Who are the 2012 MY Campers? Have a look at their profiles at MY Camp Profiles.