Logan Ober, a senior at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, was given an open-ended final project last year from his computer science teacher Kristi McWilliams.
Ober pointed to a drawer in McWilliams’ class, filled with broken laptops — all considered junk by the school district. “Can I try fixing one of those?” he asked.
“Why not?” she said.
What McWilliams didn’t expect was for the 17-year-old to come back a couple days later with three completely repaired, working computers.
“It’s amazing,” McWilliams said. “I think he knows more about hardware than I do.”
Although Ober looks like the typical teenager, with a lanky build and a smile full of braces, he is a computer wiz with a desire to give.
Since that project, Ober estimates he’s fixed and donated about $30,000 worth of computers, including MacBooks, PCs and Chromebooks, based on their retail value at the time of their release. He said he does it because he enjoys it and it reduces e-waste.
E-waste, discarded electrical or electronic devices, is a growing problem across the world. It has adverse effects on people and the environment due to scraps that contain lead, cadmium, beryllium, flame retardant and other hazardous materials. So giving away the computers to someone in need prevents them from contaminating the environment, Ober said.
Plus he gets to brighten someone else’s day. A new computer can open up more possibilities for children and teenagers, he said — if they wanted to try coding, for example. MacBooks can cost upward of $1,000 and are unaffordable for many students, especially with Apple’s limited self-service repair capabilities.
Ober does all the repairs on the carpet of his bedroom floor — the mess drives his parents crazy, but they’re supportive — or in McWilliams’ classroom.
He transports the chunks of metal and motherboards in the trunk of his car and in a rolling luggage bag when between classes.
“It gets really heavy sometimes,” Ober said, hoisting his suitcase up the stairs on the way to McWilliams’ classroom.
Sometimes his schoolmates bully him, leaving crude sticky notes on his car or calling him a nerd.
“I’m used to it,” Ober said, brushing it off. As a student with high-functioning autism and anxiety, he said he has struggled a lot. It’s his third year back in public school after attending a special education school for many years.
There are fellow students who show support and are in awe of his passion and work ethic, he said. Many call him with tech-related questions and requests to help them with virus detection and repair.
“I love being back in normal school — I love having my freedom,” Ober said, plus his teachers at Rancho Cotate, especially McWilliams, have encouraged him to continue his project.
The school’s teachers know Ober is the go-to guy to when they have a computer problem that needs to be solved, McWilliams said.
With social anxiety, Ober said he focuses on the joy he gets from fixing a laptop and giving it away. He also keeps himself incredibly busy, juggling a part-time job at Starbucks, a job at the Redwood Country Kids Club, a computer class at the Santa Rosa Junior College, track practice after school every day and finishing high school.
After Ober fixed a bunch of McWilliams’ computers, even gifting her one of the repaired MacBooks, the school district’s IT department gave Ober six MacBooks that were deemed irreparable. He came back with five working computers.
Since then, he has received computers donated by SOMO Village, Credo High School, Redwood Country Kids Club and more. He says he either gives them back to the organizations or gives them to people he knows are in need of an upgrade.
“It opens up a lot of possibilities for these kids to have more than a Chromebook,” Ober said. “And when you have an actual desktop with a professional-level quality, being able to give it to them for free is actually really rewarding.”
He says the salvaged equipment has come, in part, from the Sonoma County Office of Education, where he reached out to Cody Grosskopf, the chief technology officer, for computers to practice on.
“They were destined for the garbage can,” Grosskopf said. “I’m glad he’s doing something with them.”