#TechTeen – Mary Karroqe

Mary K


Mary Karroqe is a seventeen-year-old high school senior attending Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, New York (NY-08, represented by CAC Congressional Co-Chair, Hakeem Jeffries).  She is an active hacker, attending and organizing hackathons within her community.  She is a lead organizer of The Young Hackers, a non-profit organization created and run by high school students across New York City committed to hosting hackathons to inspire their peers to pursue futures in STEM.

Mary has been awarded as a New York Affiliate Winner and National Runner Up for the Aspirations in Computing Award from the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT).  Her team won the Third Place Main Prize at PennApps XII.  

Feel free to check out all her latest projects on Github at http://github.com/mkarroqe.


How did you first become involved with coding and technology?

My first exposure to programming was through the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program. I came into the program with an open mind, and no prior experience. I came out of the seven weeks a changed person with direction, passion, and an amazing community of girls behind me. I am now confident that even though I am often one of the only girls in my coding classes in school, that doesn’t mean that I am incapable of pursuing a career in this field, or that I am alone.

Have you created any apps? Tell us about them!

I haven’t created any apps that have been published in the app store, but that is something that I aim to change after I complete the Congressional App Challenge! However, I have created a few encryption and decryption scripts, comical web apps, and many websites. Currently, I’m working on creating a physics engine in Java with a few of my peers.

What did you think about tech and coding before you began?

If you asked seven-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I never would have answered, “an engineer.” I thought that engineers wore striped hats, overalls, and conducted trains. I imagined myself as an artist, someone who could turn creative bursts of energy into a career I loved. I was a poet, writer, and musician, fiercely passionate about expressing myself. However, the one thing I struggled to figure out was a future where all my passions fit together.

Enter Girls Who Code. I applied to the program on a whim, needing something to occupy my summer, with no prior knowledge nor interest in computer science. As I learned the basics of programming, I discovered how collaborative and imaginative it allowed me to be. In a universe that favors entropy, it was empowering to learn that with a few clacks on my keyboard I could escape chaos, regain control, and create my own universe. I was hooked—not only to the power of programming, but also to the community that surrounded it.

What programming languages are you familiar with? 

I’m fluent in Python, Java, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, which are all considered high-level languages. The more like english a programming language looks, the higher level it is considered, since it takes more effort for the computer to compile it into jargon that the computer can understand. I’m interested in studying lower level languages, like Assembly, because I think it will make me a stronger programmer with a more thorough understanding of what happens to my code behind the scenes.

What is it that you enjoy about programming?

I love how creative and expressive programming is. It’s more than just problem solving; it’s conjuring up ways to create your own universe in the more efficient way possible. It’s empowering.

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

Hackathons are my favorite places to develop my skills, meet new people, and create programming projects. I need an electric and inspiring environment to work, and hackathons are the best place to do that!

I also owe my continued interest in tech to the all-female communities I’m a part of, including Girls Who Code, and NCWIT. It’s impossible to lose faith in yourself when you have a community of like-minded women behind you to remind you that your ambitions are valid.

Why do you think students should learn how to code?

Coding is a skill that is relevant not only to computer science, but to day-to-day survival. Coding teaches you not only how to think logically, but also creatively, to find solutions to problems that are efficient and imaginative. It teaches you to be collaborative, as programmers are frequently working together in teams, and it teaches you how to google. Learning to code created a bridge in my brain, connecting my creative and logical sides, and I think that’s invaluable.

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

I’m definitely planning on pursuing a career in technology, by majoring in computer engineering and potentially minoring in cyber security in college. I’m not sure exactly where I want the tech field to take me, but I am confident that I will never be bored, and will never stop learning.

What advice do you have for other beginners, especially high school students?

Learn to embrace failure; mistakes are the best way to learn. Don’t be afraid to Google questions you have- don’t neglect the privilege of access to information! Join a community you can rant to when you’re stumped, and celebrate with when you complete your project. Go to hackathons and pursue projects you care about!

Is there anything else you’d like to say to high school students who are potentially interested in learning how to code?

Awesome that you’re interested! While resources like codecademy and Khan Academy are great resources and jumping off points, I think the best way to learn how to code is by pursuing a project idea, and googling away until you successfully create it.

If you come up with an idea that’s already been done, don’t feel discouraged. I know that when I was first starting out, I would get really frustrated because every idea I would get really hyped about would end up being something that already existed. But who cares? Build it better.

Facebook wasn’t the first social network, and Google wasn’t the first search engine, but they’re the ones that are the most successful today. Come explore programming at a hackathons! They’re great places for beginners with workshops and mentors to help you learn. I’m helping organize a Hip Hop Hackathon this February with The Young Hackers- check out http://younghackers.us to keep up with our upcoming events!