How Mark Rober Became The Willy Wonka of Engineering

Picture the coolest, most ridiculously awesome room you can imagine. Maybe it’s got a golf simulator and a billiards table, or radiant-heat floors, or polychromatic India Mahdavi furniture, or meticulously cultivated hygge. Whatever it is, whatever you’re envisioning, it would be even better if it had a secret door leading to another room.

And of course, a secret door has to reveal itself in some sick way, like how you run through a wall to get to track 9 3⁄4, or wade through a coat closet to get to Narnia, or turn a bronze eagle on a bookshelf, or push the correct button on a soda machine. It can’t just be a switch labeled secret door, though that’d be kind of funny. That kind of meta humor would be very on-brand for Mark Rober, except that Rober would rig it so that when you flip that switch, you’d get hit with a glitter bomb. Roughly 60 million people watch Rober’s monthly videos, though, and every single one would sniff out the trap. A dedicated fan already would’ve guessed, would’ve assumed, that there is a secret door somewhere in this room, and they might’ve even worked out where it is and how to activate it. Rober, though, possesses two magical powers beyond science and engineering—a frictionless access to his boyhood mind, and the instincts of a born storyteller—and that is what enables him to conceive of something we can’t, something even cooler than a room with a secret door.

A second secret door.

Rober is 42 years old, and he has a graduate degree in mechanical engineering from USC. He worked at NASA for nine years, seven of them on the Mars Curiosity project, and then another five at Apple on advanced VR for autonomous vehicles before quitting to be a full-time YouTube creator, and he and his wife have a 15-year-old son, all of which seems impossible because Rober himself seems 15. The decal T-shirts, the backward baseball caps. Everything is frikkin’ this or stoked about that. He does that millennial entrepreneur thing where he ends every sentence with the same rhetorical question, right? He grew up in Southern California, just inside the northern border of Orange County, the youngest of three kids, “and compared to my brother and sister,” he says, “I feel like I remember what it was like to be a kid better than they do. Like, I remember that so well.” He knows when he’s hit upon a video idea that will excite his 22 million YouTube subscribers, he says, “because it’s still exciting for me.”

If you’ve got kids and don’t know who Mark Rober is, go ask one of them. Even if you don’t, chances are you’ve seen a Mark Rober video without realizing it, and chances are it was either “Backyard Squirrel Maze 1.0—Ninja Warrior Course” from May 2020 (96.2 million views) or “Backyard Squirrel Maze 2.0—The Walnut Heist” from May 2021 (61.4 million views), which are two of the most popular videos on YouTube, because they are objectively delightful.

The “Backyard Squirrel” franchise chronicles the ongoing misadventures of four very persistent squirrels, Phat Gus and friends, who keep infiltrating the bird feeders in Rober’s suburban San Jose backyard, even the feeders that were marketed online as “squirrel proof.” Impressed by their derring-do, Rober decided to see if he could outfox the squirrels by luring them through an elaborate obstacle course with a bounty of walnuts. The squirrels triumphed, making them famous. Then they triumphed again in the sequel, and they will surely triumph once more this October when Rober drops “Backyard Squirrel Maze 3.0.”

Read more of the Fast Company article HERE!

Published by Larry Fire

I write an eclectic pop culture blog called THE FIRE WIRE that features articles about books, comics, music, movies, television, gadgets, posters, toys & more!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: