If you were one of the 5,000 attendees at SOLIDWORKS World 2018, or one of the countless number who watched the conference online, you may have seen a short presentation about Jason Ledon of Hialeah, FL. If you live in the Miami area, you may have read about him in the newspaper.
Jason is a junior at Miami Lakes Education Center’s (MLEC) Cambridge Academy. He’s a stunningly talented and motivated student: he’s taking AICE/AP classes, he’s an officer in Team Jag, the school’s award-winning robotics club, he’s part of the National Honors Society, the list goes on. Jason is well-spoken, polite, and was willing to spend part of a fairly nice Friday afternoon talking to me on the phone about SOLIDWORKS, and respond to some e-mailed follow up questions afterwards. He’s a nice young man, a true pleasure to talk to, the kind of teen who makes you feel confident about the future of engineering.
He also currently holds the title of youngest known Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE)*.
Of the 279,000 certified SOLIDWORKS users worldwide, only 3370 are CWSE’s; Experts make up 1.2% of all certified users**. The CWSE is the most difficult certification SOLIDWORKS offers. You have to already be a Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate (CSWA), a Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional (CSWP), and pass four specialty tests (such as Sheet Metal, Weldments, Surfacing, Mold Tools, Drawing Tools, and more), complete the four-hour long exam, and answer at least 80% of the questions correctly. There is no sample exam available, and if you get 79% or less you have to wait six months before you can take the exam again.
Jason got it on his first try.
He was 16 at the time.
Jason fell into SOLIDWORKS and engineering. As a freshman, he’d heard from fellow students that his school’s engineering program was enjoyable, and he jumped into it without any real experience. It’s a difficult track at his school: along with all the fun that comes with engineering, there is real work involved. Jason’s teacher, Paul Kynerd, created a curriculum based on real world problems, with the specific intention of getting students prepared for the projects they will go on to create in their junior and senior years of college. The goal is to push and prepare the students so they are well ahead of their peers once they hit the university level, and most of the time they are. 10th graders in Jason’s program have to pass the CSWA as their final.
Jason passed that exam when he was 15.
When asked how much time he’d put into preparing for the CSWE exam, Jason said, “There wasn’t any time where I sat down and specifically said, ‘Let me study for it.’ I learned the program as I was going through the certifications, and if I would see a feature I didn’t really know how to use, I would go in depth and look into it. But I feel like my everyday use with it was my main form of studying…For the most part I didn’t sit down and really study for it, it was just [through] trying to learn the program in and out, and the E was a result of that.”
With seven certifications under his belt, Jason has already reached the half-way mark towards his ultimate goal: passing all SOLIDWORKS customer-facing certification exams before he graduates high school. “I see it as a challenge for myself,” he said. “Getting all the customer certifications would push me to learn as much about the software as possible, which is what I am after.” Although he has big goals, Jason is realistic about the workload. “I don’t know how feasible it is to get [all the exams] done during high school with all the exams I have coming up and college preparation to do, but it is what I would like to accomplish.”
Now Jason is a junior, and apart from future SOLIDWORKS certification exams, the next big test on his horizon is the SAT. I asked him what was more nerve wracking, the SAT or the CSWE. “That’s hard, because…” he paused for a moment. “I took the SAT once and I plan on taking it again, but it’s still nerve wracking. But for the [CSWE]…I was just so scared of failing and not being the youngest and having to wait those six months, so that’s really hard for me to answer. Because they both meant so much to me.” Ever the honor student, he caught his grammar and said, “Or they both mean so much.”
To be clear: being the youngest CSWE in the world was not the driving factor behind Jason’s performance. He wanted to be an Expert because of the opportunities that would be afforded to him, because he fell in love with SOLIDWORKS as a program, because he wants to have the best chance at a successful future. “I just saw, one, how useful [SOLIDWORKS] is in the industry, and how it can be applied in so many places…It just clicked with me, and I enjoy learning the ins and outs of it and the different features. I just really got into it and I never looked back.” Being the youngest Expert, he said, was an added bonus.
How much does Jason like SOLIDWORKS? When he was offered the chance to beta test the new SOLIDWORKS CSWP exam, he readily accepted. “I wanted the opportunity to test myself in SOLIDWORKS and see if I could learn anything while taking the beta exams (which I can happily say that I did).” During the certification presentation at SOLDIWORKS World 2018, two new exams were announced, Certified Additive Manufacturing Associate exam coming out in April on MySolidWorks, and the Mold Making Associate exam, now available. When asked which exam he was most excited about, Jason wrote, “I’m probably more excited about the Additive Manufacturing Exam solely because how much more involved I am in the field. I do have my own 3D printer and like to keep up with other printer technology, such as SLS, SLA, DLP, FDM, etc.” Jason saved up his own money to buy a 3D printer and designs and prints his creations at home. He uses SOLIDWORKS and the printer to make anything and everything, from cases and fastenings for school to a heart-shaped key chain charm, a gift for his mother
After the article in the Miami Herald was published, Jason was contacted by two people about independent modeling work. He’s not actively pursuing any local internships at the moment (his focus is on high school and his many AICE/AP classes and school clubs), but he is working on an application for Carnegie Mellon’s Summer Academy for Mathematics and Science. Carnegie Mellon is on the list of colleges Jason is interested in, a list that also includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Georgia Institute of Technology. As for an engineering focus, he’s still considering his options. “Possibly mechanical, maybe aeronautical,” he said. “I haven’t set myself on a specific branch of engineering. I know I really want to go somewhere in the field.”
Jason has received a lot of attention due to his many accomplishments. Beta testing, job offers, newspaper articles. Throughout all of it, he has remained humble, quietly confident, and fantastically mature. “This has all been a wonderful experience for me that I’m glad to have been able to take part in,” he wrote to me, “and if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to beta test more exams in the future.” If Jason continues on his scholastic, engineering, and SOLIDWORKS paths, his future will hold much more than just beta testing.
Thank you to Jason Ledon and Paul Kynerd for taking the time to talk about their work, SOLIDWORKS, and sharing their thoughts and photos with the community.
*When signing up for an account at the SOLIDWORKS Certification Center, applicants are not asked for their age.
**SOLIDWORKS certification statistics are true at the time of writing.