“A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things.” — Grace Hopper
Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m a senior at Stuyvesant High School, and the Founder and Executive Director of StuyHacks, Organizer of BitxBit Camp, and a member of the IT Department of Stuyvesant’s Student Union.
I discovered computer science almost by accident, after finding my dad’s old C programming book in our family attic. Afterwards, I started working on online courses such as Codeacademy to learn more skills, as well as basic HTML/CSS for web design.
When I moved to New York City and started high school, I took my first official computer science course and fell in love with the field. I didn’t see computer science as anything more than a hobby at the time, so this was an incredible revelation for me, and I’ve since never looked back. I’ve had the opportunity to attend the Grace Hopper Celebration as a Google Scholar, as well as speak at Lesbians Who Tech, World Maker Faire, and present my work at Emoticon and other conferences.
I love brainstorming and building projects in my free time, whether they’re hardware, software, or a hybrid of both, and I especially love attending hackathons and making new friends! In addition, I’m currently working for the US Department of State, END7, United Nations, and Facebook on several youth-oriented initiatives, and conducting computational biology research with the help of mentors from NYU.
Fun Fact: I’m a huge fan of Broadway shows and animated films, and I’ve watched the Phantom of the Opera at least ten times!
What # would define your life journey?
#StickToIt – Despite what others think, there’s really no one who dictates your path except for you. You don’t have to conform to the expectations of others, no matter where you are in your life journey. Follow your goals and celebrate your successes, knowing that you’re fully capable of doing anything you put your mind to!
Favorite website / app:
Quora, in particular, has acted as a sort of breeding ground for career, academic, and even personal advice, as well as a great forum for experts from whom I can reliably seek answers to difficult conceptual questions. I also really appreciate how much the development team interacts with users, and how much they really care about developing the platform for the betterment of the community!
Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted:
Tracy Chou is someone I’ve looked up to ever since she rose to prominence a few years ago for her advocacy. The work she’s done in encouraging women – especially women of color – in tech to pursue computer science careers is really incredible, and I’m always so inspired by her passion for her work and initiatives.
Nonetheless, I’m lucky enough to have a network of women in tech who inspire me everyday with their accomplishments and enthusiasm for their work. There’s far too many names to include, but Pooja Chandrashekar, Ruthe Farmer, and Shreya Shankar are just a few of the many incredible women I’ve been fortunate enough to meet since I joined the community!
Challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
I moved to New York City from a small town in New Jersey about four years ago, around the same time I started getting more involved in computer science. In some ways, it was a blessing and a curse – while I was able to discover an entire community of talented developers (and started attending hackathons!), I also felt the effects of the gender gap in computer science for what seemed like the first time. While I was never necessarily encouraged to pursue computer science, I also never actively faced such a stigma towards girls trying to enter the field.
I came into high school fairly confident of my skills, but being surrounded by a degree of negative energy, whether it was during competitive coding competitions or even in class, quickly eroded a lot of the positivity I felt going in. Whenever I was unable to figure out the most efficient algorithm for a problem, or accidentally submitted a script that didn’t follow the style conventions, it was difficult to build back my self-esteem.
From competitions to internships, I began to see the barriers that prevent a lot of girls like myself from entering computing careers, as well as the growing community of women in tech who were working towards reversing this trend. I’ve since made it a personal goal to strive towards developing my technical skills regardless of the opinions of others, and to show other girls that it is possible to overcome negative stereotypes to succeed. Whether it’s volunteering to mentor for after-school programs, providing opportunities to other girls to get started in programming, or even just acting as a role model for younger girls, I’ve really seen the effect that even one person can have in this movement. I’m studying Software Development and Systems Programming at my school at the moment, and I’m happy to say that not only has my confidence grown back, but I’ve never been more excited for what’s to come!
I’m really interested in the potential applications of big data, and would love to be a data science researcher working on increasing human empowerment through machine learning and data visualization.
What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Don’t let other people’s ideas of success tamper your own dreams. I’ve been told countless times that it’s impossible to have a career in both humanities and STEM. As a person who’s been as interested in problem solving as much as creative writing and digital art, this has been a constant struggle for me. When I found computer science, I discovered an outlet where I could apply both my analytical reasoning to programming algorithms alongside my more creative interests in design and user experience.
Even in areas unrelated to your career, remember that you aren’t following a predetermined path. It’s impossible to predict the future, as hard as that might be to accept. I’ve discovered the hard way that whenever a door closes, there’s almost always another one that opens. Lost opportunities are only a chance to learn from your mistakes, and to make the best use of the next opportunity that comes your way.
No matter how many times you fall, there’s always a way to get back up. Focus on positivity and your goals, and you’ll always have a reason to continue to strive towards your dreams. Never let go of the fact that you’re incredible and deserve nothing less than your best chance!