#TechTeen – Alisha Ukani

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Alisha is a 17-year-old Senior in high school. She began coding as a freshman when she took AP Computer Science, and soon found that she enjoyed utilizing programming skills to help others. She has created apps to help her school as well as her community as a member of Code for Boston and as a Software Developer at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council.

How did you first become involved with coding and technology?

I decided to sign up for AP Computer Science in my freshman year, despite not having any prior coding experience. I quickly learned how to code and loved the problem-solving experience! By the end of the school year, I was delving into advanced topics like graph theory, and was motivated to explore other areas in computer science.

Have you created any apps? Tell us about them!

I’m most proud of building QuiziCal (www.quizical.io), a web app that helps teachers coordinate the dates for their tests and quizzes. I got the idea after realizing that my peers were most stressed when there were too many assessments in a relatively short time period, and that teachers didn’t know it was a problem. After learning how to build web apps, I made QuiziCal, and presented it to the heads of various academic departments at my school.

What did you think about coding and tech before you began? How have your views changed since you began?

My older brother has always been interested in coding, so I grew up knowing that coding was something fun. But I was never seriously interested until I was able to take programming classes in school. Not only have I confirmed that coding is fun, but I’ve also learned how programming gives us a powerful way to help others. In addition, I was surprised to find out that you don’t need to take classes to learn how to code – it’s easy to read online tutorials and work on small projects until you feel comfortable working on bigger projects! 

What programming languages are you familiar with? 

I have experience with a lot of programming languages: Java, C, JavaScript, PHP, Ruby, Python, Racket, CoffeeScript. I’m also familiar with markup languages like HTML, CSS, Markdown, etc.

I’ve learned that each programming language has its advantages for different kinds of projects, so I want to continue learning new languages and making new kinds of programs.

What is it that you enjoy about programming?

When faced with a daunting programming challenge, you’re forced to break down the problem into many smaller pieces. I love this process – it’s like solving a puzzle! It forces me to become a better problem solver and learn how to approach challenges in new ways.

Are there any resources that have helped you develop your skills?

Programming classes are really helpful, and I’ve taken courses at Harvard University that have refined my skills. I also like reading online tutorials and looking up questions on StackOverflow.

Do you see yourself building a career field in the tech field?

Currently, I would love to either be a computational biology researcher, where I would use my programming skills to investigate previously-unknown microscopic systems, or a civic technologist, where I would build tools to help society’s most marginalized communities get the services they need from the government.

What advice do you have for other beginners?

Programming can be really difficult when you’re starting out because you have to approach problems differently compared to how you would approach them in real life. There’s a great video from Harvard’s CS50 class where the class collectively comes up with instructions for making a peanut butter jelly sandwich, and it’s much more complicated than you would think! You have to be so specific when it comes to coding, because what’s intuitive to you is not intuitive to a computer. Being able to switch into a new mindset is a skill that comes with time, so just stick with it and it’ll get easier.
Also, both beginners and experts have to debug. So don’t worry if you make a lot of mistakes when you code! We all do.