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Joey Hudy: So much more than a marshmallow gun


Joey Hudy
August 14, 2015

Editor's note: This story is part of our back-to-school spotlight on notable incoming students. The series will run during the first two weeks of the fall semester. Read our other profiles here.

Joey Hudy didn’t have to come to Arizona State University.

The incoming freshman with a knack for building electronics already had what so many people go to college for: potential job offers, and an impressive resume.

He’d worked as an intern at Intel for two years. And after he crossed the high school threshold and had been handed his diploma, some companies began asking if they could talk to him about work opportunities.

As if trying to decide what university to attend wasn’t hard enough, the 18-year-old had to also measure the value of starting to earn real money on his professional track.

Ultimately, Hudy decided on enrollment at ASU. Part of the rationale was that a degree would help him advance faster and farther once his career started. But a large part of it was the difficult decision to step away from the very lifestyle that had made him such a desirable commodity.

In essence, he wanted a new start. He wanted to be a normal teenager.

The marshmallow effect

Hudy’s rise to prominence started where many Americans might aim as a final job destination: the White House.

The Anthem native was 14 years old when inventing a high-powered marshmallow gun earned him audience with President Barack Obama — and a ton of positive media exposure after video of Hudy and Obama launching marshmallows onto White House walls made the daily news rounds.

Talk to Hudy about that 2012 experience now and you can almost hear a virtual eye roll in his voice. He has told the story too many times to recall.

Yes, it was a cool moment. And, yes, he has been invited back to the White house two more times — including once as first lady Michelle Obama’s guest during a State of the Union address. But while splatting a marshmallow onto government property put him on the short list of this administration’s “young people who matter” brigade, these intersections with the leader of the free world don’t tell Hudy’s story.

He’s not a political pawn. He’s a maker. And though that marshmallow gun was a winning early creation, it’s a footnote on his list of homemade products that includes a 3-D body scanner and a solar-powered computer.

“That (gun) was what gets a lot of the publicity and, by far, that was the easiest thing I’ve ever made,” Hudy said during a phone interview. “If you want to make something like it … you can probably make something from Home Depot (parts) for $20.”

He sounds a bit dismissive of that candy cannon now, but he owes a lot to it. Carrying the orange and white tangle of tubes into a room of other inventors in 2011 was, perhaps, the most impactful thing he has done in his young life.

Making a maker

Thirteen-year-old Joey Hudy sounds like he was a rather typical teenager.

Both he and his mother, Julie Hudy, describe him as shy and a bit antisocial, someone who spent a lot of time indoors or in his room.

Hudy takes it a step further, saying he didn’t have any friends. So he spent his time inventing. He made rockets out of soda bottles and chairs out of cardboard, and he fiddled with Snap Circuits, which are, basically, electronics experiments for kids.

Hudy was so into Snap Circuits that his mother called the manufacturer looking for more parts and was directed to a man named Jeff Coda. He didn’t have any more, but he did have a question, “Had Joey ever been to a Maker Faire?”

He hadn’t. But after Julie Hudy heard Coda talk more about these events — part science fair and part social event for inventors — she was convinced Hudy should attend one. As part of his 13th-birthday haul, he received two tickets to the Bay Area Maker Faire — from Coda. And just for kicks, Joey decided to enter his marshmallow cannon into the Young Makers field. It was accepted.

As Hudy and his mom explored the floor at that Maker Faire, he was amazed by all the cool things people had made. And there were quite a few people interested in his cannon. More importantly, these were people who “got” him. He felt like he finally found a place he fit in.

But there was an aspect of the faire that worried him.

“There were other kids on stage making speeches,” Julie Hudy said. “He said to me, ‘Don’t ever make me get up on stage.’”

It’s a funny anecdote now because in the years since that first step into the Maker Faire culture, Hudy has become one of its stars, a young man who has spent the past few years flying around the world giving speeches about his inventions, his trips to the White House and how the Maker Faires have changed his life.

After one of these speeches in Rome, he was approached by Brian Krzanich, Intel’s CEO, who said he wanted to hire Hudy. There were smiles and appreciative comments. But after Krzanich left, Hudy had a question for his mom, “Do you know who that was?” It wasn’t a prompt for glory. Hudy had no idea of Krzanich’s ties to Intel.

He soon learned more as he was hired as Intel’s youngest corporate intern ever; a feat that’s almost as impressive as being named one of the “10 Smartest Kids in the World” by Brilliant.org.

Accolades aside, Hudy doesn’t get too wrapped up in his resume. He’s more likely to talk about how Maker Faires opened up his life to the point that he could feel comfortable enough to visit the president or hang with the head of a major tech company.

“It not only changed my future outcome, it changed me as a person,” he said.

Now it’s time for this young person to change again.

Looking forward

One thing about being a smart guy immersed in the world of math and electrical engineering, you tend to see things as they are, without the taint of hubris or hope.

And as Hudy and his mom looked at his post-high school options, there was this realization about his White House days and status as a Maker Faire star: It couldn’t last forever.

“I knew it would come to an end,” Julie Hudy said via phone from their home in Anthem. “It’s bittersweet. You travel all over the world and you talk to people. Now it’s over-ish. It’s the next chapter.”

And though Hudy will continue to be part of the Maker Faire culture – attending faires when his schedule allows, though not speaking at them as before — he needs to focus on his time studying engineering on ASU’s Polytechnic campus.

“He can’t do both things,” Julie Hudy said.

But he can continue to make things in the same manner he always has, but this time with a lot more tools and bigger labs.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he said from Colorado, where he spent the summer interning at SketchUp, a company that specializes in 3-D modeling software. “I’ll have a lot more opportunities to make a lot more things. It’s interesting to see what my dorm will look like at the end of the year.”

And it will be interesting to see how he adapts to life as just one of the many brilliant minds making a path through ASU’s ranks, not as the kid who shot marshmallows with President Obama.

“I think he’s ready to have a normal teenage life,” Julie Hudy said. “He just wants to be treated like any other kid.”

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