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Where little geeks are made

August 6, 2008 |  5:00 pm


How does one become a geek? Perhaps that creepy Mac commercial penetrated your mother's womb, condemning you to a lifetime of Apple loving. Or maybe messing with gadgets was the only way to avoid talking to girls (or boys, as the case may be). Or maybe, just maybe, you went to a summer camp where taking apart computers and building websites replaced more traditional camp activities such as drinking red punch and creating bracelets out of twine.

This week in Compton, 84 students are eschewing summer pleasures like jumping in pools and watching TV for Best Buy's first Geek Squad Summer Academy on the West Coast. The four-day program, sponsored by Magic Johnson Enterprises and Best Buy, brings local Best Buy employees together with kids in the community so they can become "Junior Geek Squad Agents." They build computers. They mix soundtracks. They create websites.

Not everyone at camp aspires to geekdom. Seventh-grader Esmeralda Escobedo of Compton wants to be a model when she gets older. She said she was at camp because her mother wanted her to be able to fix the computer at home when it broke. But Satyee Billingsley, who was helping Esmeralda build a computer from scratch, spoke the company line. "I might want to work at Best Buy," she said.

In a room next door, 20 students sat in front of sleek white MacBooks learning to create music with Garage Band. Wearing headphones, they bopped to the music. One girl held a teddy bear as she listened. Others sucked on lollipops.

"I didn't even know how to use some of this software until I was in my 20s," said Quinn Bobbitt, Compton store services manager, who persuaded Best Buy to bring the camp to Compton. The camp is important because "it shows kids there's more out there," she said.

The academy is the brainchild. . .

. . .of Moira Hardek, who realized as a Geek Squad double agent (those are the ones who go to homes to fix things) that there were  hardly any women working for the company. She created a Geek Squad Summer Academy in Chicago last year for girls -- this year she's opening it to boys and girls in cities across the country including Orlando, Fla.; Newark, N.J.; and San Antonio.

"We want to ensure that the future will have more geeks," said Bryant Vasques, a double agent from San Bernardino who was in Compton this week volunteering at the camp.Dsc_0253

Some campers are already converted. Gerardo Ocha, a Compton 7th grader, said he wants to create his own computer company when he gets older. He has the name picked out: Ocha Tech. He signed up for camp because he didn't want to "stay at home, bored."

But it isn't easy to make every boy and girl a geek: If the Summer Academy proves anything, it's that at camps everywhere, boys will be boys. Although some younger boys struggled to learn HTML as they created their own websites, one seemed adept enough: His website waxed poetic about some non-geeky terms, such as booger and fart.

-- Alana Semuels

Semuels, a Times staff writer, covers marketing and the L.A. tech scene.

Photos by Geovani Garcia/Best Buy