When he was young, his parents laid a pad at the bottom of their stairs. If he fell while trying to climb on the stairs, he’d be protected. One thing his parents wouldn’t do is prevent him from trying.
Kenneth Harding, a third-year in information systems at Ohio State, was raised without restrictions.
When he was 3, he used his dad’s wrenches to remove the training wheels from his bike, and taught himself how to ride it. When he was 10, he built a computer. The day he turned 17, he got his pilot’s license. Last month, at 20 years old, he was named the Microsoft Tech Student of the Month.
“Every day, you’ve got a new challenge,” Harding said, “and whenever you fix that one bug that’s been bugging you for the past week, that’s then just the best moment of all time.”
Harding said he programs for six to 10 hours a day, and has done so nearly every day for the past five years. Today’s challenge for Harding and Soulfire Software, the programming studio he started with a friend, is completing their next video game, Septipus Domine, a two-dimensional game about “an octopus that had its legs chopped off.”
Harding and his friend Scott McPherson started Soulfire Software when they were high school seniors. McPherson, a third-year in digital arts at Bowling Green State University, said Harding is a driving force behind the group’s progress.
“Kenny’s always up there, always working on it,” McPherson said. “He holds the studio together, kind of like glue.”
McPherson said nature provides him and Harding with inspiration when they think about new video games. Last summer, he said, they went to Indian Run Falls in Dublin, Ohio, and “just sat on the rocks.”
“It’s kinda weird, but it’s sorta like a meditation thing, where we get away from modern life,” he said. “I bring the sketchbook; he brings the laptop.”
Harding said when he began programming, at age 8, he “had no idea what (he) was doing” and the experience of independently figuring things out kept him motivated.
From there, Harding moved on to Web development. He started his first website, where he posted video game reviews and cheats, when he was 11 years old.
Harding’s passion for technology continued when he entered Dublin Coffman High School in Dublin, where he played a key role in the robotics team.
“He was kind of a shy kid when he was a freshman,” said Greg King, head of the Dublin Coffman robotics team. “But he grew to be pretty confident and became one of our robotics team leaders.”
His senior year of high school, when he was a captain of the robotics team, Harding and another captain of the team were supposed to sing the national anthem before their robotics competition at Cleveland State University, King said. But when the team’s robot began to malfunction, Harding had to pull double duty.
“We were trying to fix that problem,” King said, “but, basically, he and this other kid were the only two who knew how to fix the code.”
Harding had to run back and forth, fixing his team’s robot and warming up to sing the national anthem.
“And when I say, ‘Running over,’ I mean literally,” King said. “And, he did a really good job on the national anthem.”
After coming to OSU, Harding has remained involved with the Dublin Coffman robotics team, as a mentor.
Despite her son having an ever-growing list of accomplishments, Lalah Harding, a medical technologist at the OSU Medical Center, said what impresses her most about Kenneth Harding is something that can’t be downloaded on the Internet.
“He’s a good, compassionate person,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m as proud of him for that as I am for any of his other accomplishments — and I keep telling him, ‘You’ve accomplished more in 20 years than I have in 60.'”
Kenneth Harding’s father, Alan Harding, who has been in the computer business since 1978, said his son always has used his freedom wisely, beginning when he was allowed to climb on the stairs as a toddler.
“As far as I know,” he said, “he never fell.”