IMAGINE assembling a computer from scratch and getting it to work – all within 13 minutes. Thirteen-year-old Matthew Anandarajah Achariam can do just that. Ask him anything about the latest computer technology, personal digital assistants (PDAs), handphones ? and he has all the answers.
The child prodigy from St John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur was the youngest contestant at the recent HWM Do-It-Yourself competition in which he had to assemble a computer in the shortest possible time.
“I completed it within 13 minutes but unfortunately forgot to plug in the audio jack so I was disqualified,” says Matthew who was presented with a thumb drive (portable storage device) worth RM300 for being the youngest contestant.
His knowledge comes from surfing the Internet and reading lots of tech magazines to keep himself up to date on the IT world. He spends about RM75 a month on magazines alone. “I frequent sites like PC Mechanic and other do-it-yourself homepages where I find lots of useful information about budget parts and processors. Magazine-wise, I read Shopper, HWM, Computer Active and more, mostly imported from the US,” he says.
When he was 10 months old, Matthew mouthed his first word – “Sonic” (the name of his favourite cartoon character) – and thereafter picked up words very easily.
“I wouldn't say he is a genius but he's very gifted; we are extremely proud of him. We were surprised at first, as we didn't realise he is so talented,” says his mother Helen, who runs a kindergarten.
David Archariam, a real estate agent, recalls his son's early interest in computers. “He was very determined to get a computer desk. Then he went on to purchase the computer casing, and started talking to me in jargon,” he says.
Despite being occupied with so many activities, Matthew managed to obtain 3As and 2Bs in the UPSR examination and is constantly among the top three in his class.
“I don't spend much time on the computer, only about three hours a day surfing the Internet and chatting with friends.”
Computers were not Matthew's first love.
“I was more into PDAs and almost got one for myself. Mom was against it, saying it would not be of much use to me. I went on to set up a home audio system in my room.”
Having obtained vast knowledge on computer hardware, Matthew is now diverting his attention to software skills, including Flash, C++, HTML, and other basics of programming.
His dream is to create his own software programme, somewhat like Bill Gates.
“He's my role model; I've been inspired by many of his books,” says Matthew.
He once attempted to send Gates an e-mail which was unfortunately undelivered due to technical problems. “I requested that he open IT schools targeted at teenagers like myself, rather than only for adults,” he says.
Spark of interest
Matthew has been familiar with the use of the PC ever since his mother bought a home computer when he was eight years old. However, it was not until he wanted to have his own computer that he decided to build one himself.
“My parents were dragging their feet to get one, so I thought it would save money to make it myself,” says Matthew.
In the meantime, he had occasion to fix his mother's computer and used the opportunity to study the layout of the computer.
“The three-year-old computer had a burnt modem card, so I took it apart, cleaned the casing and put it back together,” Matthew recalls.
Helen at first doubted that her son had the technical know-how. “I was terrified when he offered to help because I didn't want to risk him blowing up the computer or having my files erased. Within minutes after I said yes, the computer was better than it was before – in tip-top condition!” she now says with pride.
Matthew's big break came after a chat with his mother's friend, art gallery owner Angie Yow, who was impressed with his knowledge of computers and electronic gadgets.
“She asked me to set up a bluetooth-enabled computer for her gallery use. I gave her a quotation of RM7,000 and she agreed to give me the deal,” he explains, adding that it would have cost her RM4,000 more if it was bought readily assembled.
For two months, till the end of June, Matthew is spending weekends at the gallery giving free computer lessons to Yow's sales assistant and servicing the computer.
For his time and effort, Yow has paid him a service fee RM2,000 which he used to purchase a flat-screen monitor for himself.
So how does Matthew keep up with this expensive hobby?
He does so by selling his belongings and spending the money on his computer.
For instance, he convinced his father to set up a stall at the Amcorp Mall flea market to sell his Playstation 2 along with other items he had collected throughout the years.
“The Playstation was a Christmas present but I sold it within a month because I got tired of it. By spending the money on the computer, I can surf the Internet and still play games, which is much more beneficial,” says Matthew.
Apart from computers, he owns the entire set of Harry Potter collectables worth RM700. He also enjoys playing badminton and football.
In school, he is a favourite in public speaking, choral speaking and spelling bee competitions.
It's in the upbringing!
Though he's just joined the ranks of the “terrible teens”, Matthew is an extremely well-mannered teenager who exudes remarkable confidence.
“We give him all the support he needs, keeping in mind that his education certainly comes first,” says Helen.
She is pleased that her son knows how to manage his time wisely, and is mature enough to take on responsibilities.
“He gets things done in his own time and never slackens, which is what I admire about him. I allowed him to buy a handphone with the money he saved because I knew he wouldn't misuse it. Sure enough, he uses it only when necessary,” she adds.
Says David: “We want our children to know that money does not come easily but has to be earned. However, anything that has to do with education is well taken care of.”
Matthew is an obedient son, says Helen. “He listens to us and knows how to differentiate between right and wrong.”
The Archariams also place great emphasis on spiritual upbringing.
“We pray every morning and at night, and before he switched on the computer for the very first time after assembling it,” says Helen.
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