Tell us about your background & how it led you to where you are today.

"Growing up, I was very fortunate to have such incredible exposure to STEM and computer science, in particular. Although coding and programming weren’t taught in elementary and middle school, my parents, who are both software engineers, got me started on Scratch, Javascript, and HTML - without that early exposure, I might have never chosen to pursue computer science. However, it wasn’t as if I sat down and said, “I’m going to build the next Facebook or Twitter or anything else for that matter.” It was more of me trying to make artwork using Javascript, trying to redraw my favorite fairy tale and animated characters, and when I was older, fiddling with the HTML/CSS of Tumblr to try to make my site even cooler, and this perception that coding wasn’t just an isolated subject, but rather a means of doing pretty much anything, really got me hooked.

Two years ago, I was admitted into TJHSST, which is a Governor’s high school focused on STEM, and I fell in love with the variety of computer science opportunities. From introductory classes to Foundations of Computer Science to AP Computer Science, Robotics, and Artificial Intelligence, I have been able to pursue computer science in conjunction with robotics and biology, a bioinformatics specialty unheard of in most high schools. Beyond coursework, I was able to be involved in Coding Lady Colonials, our new girl coding club, and its mentorship program, the CSterhood, in which girls from all different levels of computer science experience can get together and work with each other to further our collective knowledge of CS. However, I think one of the most significant events in my CS career was my first hackathon. I had been studying Java for a while and was interested, but the 24-hour hacking experience with my friends enabled me to learn not just about iOS app development, but how I can expand my knowledge of computer science beyond a classroom or an extracurricular activity."

What motivated you to create Teens Transforming Technology?

"I was incredibly nervous in my freshman year computer science class, because as one of the only girls in the class, I felt extremely isolated, which was only worsened by the fact that everyone in the class seemed to know all the answers. Although I had experience in HTML/CSS and others, learning JAVA was a whole new and at times, terrifying, world. When I’d get stuck on a lab and didn’t know what to do, the responses to my questions would range from “Just figure it out” to “If you can’t get this, why are you in CS?” I didn’t feel like I was qualified enough to be in the class, which, unfortunately, happens so often that there’s a name for it - Imposter Syndrome. I was curious about how if certain people have so much experience by the time they reach high school, because of their access to coding opportunities, how students can pursue CS in many parts of the country where access to computers and internet is sparse. And from that issue, Teens Transforming Technology was born. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Teens Transforming Technology aims to provide access to technology and coding opportunities for typically underserved groups of youth. We currently have day-long workshops in local libraries, but we’re hoping to expand into week-long camps over the summer. By using Disney or Star Wars-themed interfaces or teaching students to create the next Candy Crush, we are able to present coding and technology in a friendly and engaging way. My motivation for these programs is being students really able to connect with the code and being able to see that spark, when the puzzle pieces of the code fall into place and they have created something amazing.

Beyond the initial idea, there was definitely a lot of work and hours put in to make my idea a reality. I reached out to a variety of libraries in the region and found one that reaches an extremely diverse population in an area where schools, even high schools, don’t offer computer science or technology courses. We’re going to have our initial offering of “Summer of Tech,” a program that lasts the entire summer and is comprised by workshops once or twice a week about a variety of topics. I’m currently in the process of reaching out to school administrators to get their students involved and to sponsors/partners to help make this happen. I’m hoping that during the school year, we’ll be able to expand our program regionally to the the point that we’re running weekly workshops at multiple libraries and week-long camps during breaks from school. I’m also thinking about offering online classes for students in more remote areas about a certain topic, such as HTML/CSS, throughout the year and then having students create a capstone project using everything they’ve learned. We’re also hoping to create a TechExpo event in which local professionals and even high school students will be able to present projects and work along the lines of “CS and Me,” in which presenters will explain how they used CS to further their passions, regardless of whether they’re in the arts or sciences. We’re in the process of developing new ideas all the time and we’d love to have you follow our work at the Teens Transforming Technology website.

A large part of our workshop involves making computer science engaging and accessible to young students. Most students are exposed to science and to art at a young age, but not many have ever even seen code by the time they reach high school. As a result, our art and graphic design workshops will teach students to use JavaScript to create illustrations of their choosing, using KhanAcademy’s interface and also original projects from scratch towards the end of the session. For older students in middle or even high school who have experience in a variety of STEM, we plan to include computer science activities that show scientific processes, such as coded RNA transcription apps that “produce” an RNA strand based on an input of a “DNA strand.” We also plan to teach students to use computer science in math to create programs that can illustrate mathematical equations that are too complex for simple calculators."

What keeps you passionate in both work and play?

"I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t passionate about problem solving and creativity, which translated into coding as I got older, and I stay passionate about CS through a variety of activities. Outside of school and even outside of Teens Transforming Technology, I find time to participate in other forms of STEM-based outreach to the community. I used to host a GEMS (Girls Excelling in Math and Science) club at my local elementary school, and judging science fairs at elementary and middle schools through a STEMbassadors outreach program through my school. I also volunteer as the Events Publicist for another non-profit, Inspiring Femgineers, creating and hosting events such as a cupcake-themed Mother-Daughter Hack Day for young girls or a STEM Café in which teen girls can meet with CS professionals from a variety of fields, from Disney animation to economics and stock predictions on Wall Street. In school, I find opportunities for me to use my computer science knowledge in a creative way, such as revamping our school’s Model UN team website and collaborating with others in AP Biology, for example, to see how we could create a program that would replicate the transcription and translation process of DNA to stimulate RNA and proteins being built."

What does being a gique mean to you?

"To me, a gique is someone who is incredibly passionate about something, regardless of what they’re passionate about - art, biology, physics, music, poetry, international relations, or anything else! In our world, a gique isn’t afraid to go after what they truly enjoy learning about, and coding can be a complement to their passions, allowing them to embrace what they love. I think that sometimes our generation can have a tough time seeing coding as a tool rather than a foreign subject, which is partly due to a lack of early exposure. But it is my most sincere hope that teens and youth everywhere are able to connect their passion to coding and pursue their endeavor in an environment free from social stigma or stereotypes."

Any words of wisdom?

"I’m not joking when I say that the single most important part of computer science is perseverance. When code fails, you often have to patiently and painstakingly debug pages of code, which could be failing because of a misplacement of even a single semicolon. But throughout challenges that I have faced, I’ve always reminded myself that diligence has its rewards in the end. If I had stopped when my JavaScript code failed to illustrate the Easter Bunny when I was eight years old, I may not have continued computer science and would’ve lost out on the vast array of opportunities in computer science and in helping out the community through STEM. Regardless of whether you want to pursue arts or STEM or both, staying focused and putting in the hours (sometimes very late at night!) will have their payoff in the end, and I find that my goal-oriented mentality also helps keeps me resilient.

My best advice: Don’t be afraid! If you have an idea but don’t know too much about computer science, you can teach yourself different programming languages (here are some great Tech@Home resources) or attend classes at your local community college if your middle/high school doesn’t offer computer science. If you’re interested in computer science research, reach out to professionals in the field and see if you can shadow or aid in research - you learn so much through mentorship and being able to “do” new things. Your unique ideas and passions are what make you a gique and embracing society’s opportunities for learning is critical to reaching your dreams. As long as you hold on to the vision you start with and are willing to put in the work, there truly is no limit to what you can do!"

Teens Transforming Technology is a student-run nonprofit organization based in Northern Virginia, and we aim to inspire the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. TTT's programs, workshops, and events focus on teaching technology and programming skills while also exposing students to the business-related aspects of a technology corporation and product development. By expanding their chapters through youth activists across the nation, they hope to be able to reach out to previously underserved populations in order to encourage diversity in technology.