My beginning to coding was strange, to say the least.

I dove into my first programming project with absolutely no knowledge or understanding of anything programming-related, although I knew that it was seemingly “more for boys”, “only for geniuses”, and “all math-based”, pushing me to avoid pursuing it until mid-eighth grade when my dad came back from a conference raving about a new way of handling productivity from Wharton professor Dr. Katherine Milkman called “temptation bundling”. It was essentially taking one unproductive item (watching Netflix) and combining it with something you hate doing that’s necessary (going to the gym) to create more incentive for you to do necessary things (you can only watch Netflix while you’re at the gym). At the same time, I became obsessed with YouTube, spending nearly five hours each day surfing through an endless stream of colorful videos, but I knew it was a major problem with my productivity. As my dad showed me Dr. Milkman’s keynote speech about temptation bundling, an idea popped into my head: What if I could solve my productivity problem? What if every time I went to YouTube, a Quizlet deck of chemistry terms popped up, forcing me to read some important vocab words before being unproductive?

Hitchhikr, my temptation bundling Chrome extension, was born (and is still alive on the Google web store to this day). There was one major problem though: I didn’t know how to code at all, much less how to build a Google Chrome browser extension. My dad, a software architect for GAIC at the time, heavily helped me through this process and essentially built the framework of my extension. I remember what it was like the first time he showed me his Javascript, and I remember that I had absolutely no idea what any of the complex, almost readable code meant. My dad ended up slowly walking me through each line of his code, explaining to me how functions worked and how to debug.

Just like that, the wheels in my mind began turning. However, I didn’t ever really find a chance to code again after I finished Hitchhikr. Though my school offered computer programming, my freshman schedule was packed tight as I juggled mock trial, debate, flute, and marching band, and similarly, sophomore year was a whirlwind of debate, volleyball, flute, and three AP classes.

The fact that I ever even attended RevolutionUC (hackathon at the University of Cincinnati) was a complete coincidence. I was sitting on the bleachers with my volleyball team, watching the middle school teams play, and my teammate approached me groaning about how her friend had backed out of going to a foreign-sounding “hackathon” with her. I ended up asking her for more information about it (as I was curious about what it was) and found it fascinating.

Free food? No sleep? Cool prizes? Count me in!

It was 24 straight hours of stress, coding, and many trips to the snack table. We met Chris (great guy!) who mentored us for at least ten hours in total, helping us make our ultimate product: a webcam that used an Affectiva API that would recognize emotions to generate emotion-specific memes.

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, we ended up winning “Best High School Hack”.

How? Well, with a mixture of tech words (API, facial recognition, generator) and humor, my team presented our product in a uniquely humorous way that made our audience giggle many times during our final 2-minute presentation. Not only did this hackathon require coding skills, but presentation and networking skills as well that ended pushing our team up to the top.

I officially fell in love with programming after that, starting a web development class in late December of 2016, then co-founding Hack Club at Mason HS in January of 2017 where I became the executive director. We’ve done some pretty incredible things in our seven months of existence: placing third overall at the spring RevolutionUC in 2017, volunteering at our local elementary school by teaching STEM stations to third graders, and organizing our first summer Hack Camp 2017 where we got over 100 attendees and worked more than a combined 1000 hours. We aren’t done there, though – we have huge plans underway for the 17-18 school year. We’re arranging three club showcases to demo club projects competitively. We’re planning to take bigger trips to hackathon-rich areas of the US to attend some of the biggest hackathons in the world.

Want to talk about something revolutionary, impactful, a milestone? We’re hosting CincyHacks, the region’s first high school hackathon, in the fall of 2017. I hope that other students find the same spark that RevolutionUC ignited in me.

After all, now I think of daily life in for loops and conditional statements. What could be better than that?