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Life at Colby College – Dublin High School’s Robert Durst Skates from Hockey to Computer Science

September 9, 2016

DUBLIN, CA–Next up in our popular Life in College Series is a profile of Dublin High School Class of 2014 alum and Colby College (Waterville, Maine) sophomore Robert Durst. Along the way Robert also spent a year at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire as he pursued a passion for hockey and an interest in computer science.

robert-durst When you graduated from Dublin High School you attended a prep school instead of college, what drove that decision?

Robert Durst: “There were many reasons. First and foremost like many kids who play hockey here, it isn’t very direct to get from high school or club hockey to college hockey. There are many routes people take to pursue hockey: ‘juniors’ is playing hockey full-time and there are multiple levels; prep school, which I hadn’t heard of until a coach reached out to me, is essentially another year of high school combining school and hockey. The extra year made sense for me because I wasn’t sure which path I wanted to follow.” Did the prep school option also make you more visible to coaches?

Durst: “I did well at Dublin High School so I was already looking to move out of California and attend an East Coast college. I was also good at hockey but there weren’t Division 1 coaches knocking on my door. In the Northeast there’s NESCAC (the New England Small College Athletic Conference) which includes good schools that play Division 3 hockey.” Hockey was an important part of your high school experience, and you played for the San Jose Junior Sharks. How did you end up shifting your focus from hockey to computer science?

Durst: “I had my first exposure to computer science while at Dublin High School. One summer I decided to write an iOS app so I downloaded Xcode which is Apple’s developer environment. I had an app idea, started working and realized I had no idea how to code! During my senior year at Dublin High School I took an introductory computer science class which introduced me to a Cyber Technology Academy at Sandia National Laboratory. The Sandia program included a 10-week Python class which really got me going.

“I ended up choosing Phillips Exeter Academy because I could combine hockey with more computer science classes, and discovered that I not only loved coding but was pretty good at it. From Exeter I went to Colby College, and continued coding on my own time, and joined the computer science club. When continuing hockey at Colby didn’t work out, I looked back on that summer when I wanted to write an app and thought that would be a cool way to dive into computer science. I spoke with the President of Colby and asked if there was an app idea I could work on that would help the school; he thought it would be cool if students could order food from the school cafe from their phone. I met with the administration, gathered requirements for the app and they said ‘good luck – show us what you can do!’

“I spent the entire winter break learning how to code in Swift, which is Apple’s native language, and created the app, which is really how I ended up fully transitioning from hockey to computer science.” You had a really interesting internship in Australia over the summer with Sage Corps. How did you discover this opportunity?

Durst: “In mid-March, like many freshmen, I started thinking about what I was going to do over the summer and used Colby’s resources, such as the Career Portal. I looked through the computer science listings and Sage Corps was one of the opportunities.

“I worked with a company called Delivery Rocket, which is an on-demand delivery service for business. The service includes an app used by the drivers and when I arrived the company, which is an early stage start-up, needed the app optimized for both Android and iOS.” Looking back at your time at Dublin High School is there anything you would have done differently if you knew that your college focus would ultimately be computer science?

Durst: “Doing more computer science courses earlier would have helped; my math preparation was fine. It would be great if Dublin High could add additional classes to serve both beginning programmers (which was my case) and students with more experience.” What advice do you have for other students who had their hopes set on one path but then find that door shut?

Durst: “If you really want to pursue a sport you should definitely put as much energy and time into that sport as you can, but at the same time stay open to other interests. In my case, if I hadn’t discovered computer science I’m not sure what I’d be doing. It was hard when hockey went away, and would have been harder still if that had happened after four years of college. It’s important to explore other interests and not be afraid that life may change. I also have a radio show at Colby that I do with a few friends, which is also something I never thought I’d be doing.

“With hockey no longer a major part of my life I have time to pursue other activities and interests.” Where do you see yourself in three years when you graduate?

Durst: “I expect to study abroad at some point during my time at Colby, I think 70% of students study abroad. There’s also the possibility of pursuing a dual-engineering program. It’s possible that I’ll pursue a start-up based on one of the ideas I’m working on now. One of the things I learned from the internship this summer was the risks inherent in start-ups so getting my feet wet with a more established corporate jobs is my likely path after graduating.”


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