About Me

My story and my resumÉ.

My Story

An Unlikely Beginning

It was a small stroke of luck that my middle school years would coincide with the tail end of my local competitive robotics team’s short life. I sometimes think back in amazement at how unlikely it all was, that this tiny school of 125 students in the middle of this rural farming community would provide the portal into the magical world of robotics and technology, and would change the direction of my life forever.

My older sister Parker originally joined this local robotics team in 2015 (part of the FIRST Robotics Competition league), and after seeing the excitement of building and programming 100-pound robots and taking them to competitions, I decided to join the following season in my 7th grade year.

My first season was far from a gentle introduction. I was immediately thrown headfirst into the world of robotics when all of the coders on the team quit at the last minute in protest over a change in programming language.

My sister and I jumped into the programming void, taught ourselves enough C++ to get the robot running just in time for competition, and never looked back.

We were always that quirky little farm town team who showed up at competitions with scrappy robots held together by zip ties and double-sided foam tape. But it was hard to dampen our spirits. We tried not to be discouraged by the fact that we were surrounded by teams that rolled in like small tech startups with the equipment, funding, robot bling, and adult expertise to match. For us, every competition was a chance to prove that we could compete, and it was always a slightly humbling and extremely rewarding experience.

I ultimately spent three years on this team as a coder until our coach wore out, exhausted from fundraising and wearing too many hats, and shut the team down.

Robotics,  A Love Story

Needless to say, this experience with my robotics team was absolutely formative for me. It opened my mind to all of the exciting possibilities that a life of coding and robotics had to offer. It became crystal clear to my sister and me that robotics was a pathway out of the low-income struggle of the rural life cycle. It is the ultimate gateway to the skillset of the future and the perfect intersection of so many critical skills: engineering, coding, physics, math, and above all, a trouble-shooting mentality. We saw older kids spin their technical experience on robotics teams into college careers in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science, and we wanted, nay, needed a piece of that action.

The Dark Side Emerges

However, we also began to see that there were some cracks in the façade of this robotics league, and once you noticed them, it was hard to look away. The playing field was not level and there were some major barriers in place that prevented access to robotics for so many kids.

First, it seemed to me that girls were missing out on all the real action. While my sister and I were fortunate enough to hold technical roles on our team, we found that few girls in the league were having similar experiences. Upon going to these competitions, we were immediately struck by how few girls participated in competitive robotics--and especially how few girls held technical roles on the teams in our league. The vast majority of girls held more people-oriented roles (marketing, writing essays for awards, team organization, etc.) and because of the intense and fast-paced nature of the competitive robotics season, did not have the opportunity to acquire technical skills on the fly like we did when we had to step in as our team’s coders.

Second, it was painfully clear to us that kids in rural and other low-income communities had a harder time participating in competitive robotics in a meaningful way. Competitive robotics leagues are expensive and rural teams have difficulty maintaining the funding stream. The model works great for teams in big cities with access to technical expertise and lots of sponsorship opportunities, but rural teams are usually left behind. This opportunity gap between wealthy and lower-income communities became very personal to me when my high school team closed down at the end of my freshman year due to lack of resources.

The Vision Quest

My sister and I decided that a couple of things needed to change in order to break down the barriers for kids like us.

First, after having our eyes opened to the gender gap that exists in competitive robotics, we realized that (1) girls won’t be able to break into technical roles unless they walk onto these competitive teams with technical skills, and (2) that will only happen if there is cultural context for girls to pursue technical skills in the first place. In short, we decided that we needed to build a culture around girls and robotics where none has ever existed before.

Second, we realized that nothing was going to change until we found a way to democratize robotics and to create a clear path to mastery so that anyone, anywhere can access robotics knowledge, regardless of how much money they have or whether or not their school has a robotics team.

The Work Begins

And so, after spending almost two years researching and prototyping, we kicked off our adventure with the launch of our non-profit, Nerdy Girls, in 2017.

Nerdy Girls

With Nerdy Girls, my sister and I are working to create an alternative path for girls into the world of competitive robotics and ultimately into technical careers. Since the inception of Nerdy Girls in 2017, we’ve hosted weekly Friday night robot building parties for teen girls where they can battle their way through our program, a systematic progression of increasingly difficult robotics projects that bring together the building, wiring, coding, and battling aspects of robotics. Each project has its own YouTube tutorial that we’ve created which allows each girl to work independently and to progress at her own pace. The alternative culture that we’re building around girls and robotics is unique, and does not exist anywhere else on the planet. You can read more about my work with Nerdy Girls here.

The Robot Underground

Over the last five years, I’ve participated in two robotics leagues over six seasons, I’ve been on three robotics teams (two of which I’ve founded, one of which I’ve led), I’ve spent thousands of hours researching robotics, hundreds of hours teaching girls and other kids in the community about robotics, and I’ve had many conversations with parents who are trying to figure out how to access robotics for their kids. After immersing ourselves in this world for so many years, my sister and I have come to a hard conclusion.

Kids who are born in the wrong zip code will have a hard time accessing the life-changing robotics experience that we had. If a kid doesn’t have access to robotics at school, then it’s game over. It’s hard to believe, but there is no online path to mastery for a kid who wants to build robots at home. It simply does not exist. It is virtually impossible for a beginner to break into robotics at home, because the vast majority of robotics information on the internet is made up of expensive, disorganized, and non-systematic projects. The only programs out there are for beginners, are limited to virtual robots, and drop you off a cliff when you are ready to advance. And the more advanced robotics kits on the market are intended for teams, so they are too expensive and do not provide a roadmap for the at-home robot builder.

This frustrating realization led us to a pivotal idea, namely that we needed to find a way to make our Nerdy Girls curriculum available to kids everywhere and create a clearly defined path through the overwhelming sea of information on the internet.

And so, as fate would have it, this pandemic pause gave us the opportunity to dig deep and build what we think is our greatest work to date. We call this creation The Robot Underground, and it will be the world’s best online robotics curriculum for rogue middle school and high school teens who want to build more advanced robots. Building on our Nerdy Girls curriculum, The Robot Underground will be the first of its kind: a completely free and open source YouTube-based robotics curriculum geared toward renegades everywhere who want to break into robotics from the comfort of their own home. Learn more about The Robot Underground and why we are building it here.

Spicy Meatbots

In the process of building Nerdy Girls, we hit a major roadblock that almost became a deathblow. We had just invested most of our limited resources in expensive proprietary kits for our more advanced members, only to find out that these kits were rendered obsolete overnight due to an electronics upgrade to the platform. This was devastating for us because we were almost out of funds and definitely out of options. The problem was that there really are no intermediate/advanced robotics kits on the market for the at-home student/teen/cool kid. All of the kits out there are either designed to build a single robot, very expensive, or a delightful combination of both. So my sister and I decided to set our fear aside, dig in, and create our own lower-cost robotics system. It was touch and go for a while, but we think we pulled it off. We call it Spicy Meatbots, and it’s pretty special. Read all about it here.

A Coming of Age Story,  Robot Style

It’s hard for me to remember my life before robotics. I was lucky to have supportive parents who, though not technical themselves, saw the value in my technical interests and let me drop out of public school to go deep on a self-schooling venture for part of middle school and high school.

I designed my own path, and I was responsible for picking my curriculum and teaching myself using whatever resources I could find (usually YouTube). In 11th grade, I jumped into college classes through my local Running Start program at Central Washington University and was able to merge back into the mainstream without issues.

Over the past five years, my robotics-centered life has pushed me forward in ways I could never have anticipated. I’ve had to develop a skill set that has turned out to be not just useful, but something that will serve me for the rest of my life. Here’s how I would sum it up.
  • I can teach myself anything. Everything is figure-out-able. I’ve never met a subject I couldn’t learn, given enough time and access to the internet. I have to learn in a way that enables me to turn around and teach others (for our tutorials), so I’ve had to become disciplined about understanding broad concepts and not just memorizing processes.

  • I know how to build things. I’ve had to learn how to bring things to life, both robots that I bring to life with code and ideas that I bring to life through the process of putting one foot in front of the other. I’m learning how to take a vision that exists only in my head, and break it down into small, executable steps in order to make it a reality.

  • I have a high tolerance for suffering. I’ve had to learn to embrace the pain and to develop the ability to persist with a problem, turning it over and trying new solutions until that glorious moment when it cracks open.

  • I’ve learned to navigate my social anxiety. Since my younger teenage years, I’ve struggled with social anxiety and have often dreaded interactions with my fellow humans. My work with Nerdy Girls has required me to focus on the bigger picture and to brute-force my way past these fears while ignoring my sweaty palms. I’ve had to lead robotics teams, work with hundreds of kids, handle presentations, media interviews, and meetings with politicians and donors.

Where Does this Story End?

As this long, winding tale of my experience with robotics reaches the present day, you might find yourself asking, “well, what’s next?”

Excellent question.

I have a few main technical fields of interest: cybersecurity, digital forensics, personalized healthcare, and artificial intelligence/machine learning. I want to use modern technology to fix our voting and election system to protect against foreign interference and to stop voter suppression. Additionally, I want to figure out how we can use artificial intelligence (specifically machine learning) to improve forensic investigation, to fix our criminal justice system, and to reinvent our healthcare system. I intend to earn an undergraduate degree in computer engineering, and I’m very strongly considering pursuing a graduate degree in computer science, with a focus on machine learning.

My goal is to become technically agile like a cat, nimbly jumping from one field to another as the technical demands of the future unfold and become known. My strategy to achieve this is to build a broad base of knowledge, while leaving a trail behind me so that anyone who wants to join me has a clear and accessible path.

Along these lines, I will always continue to democratize robotics and break down barriers that prevent kids from entering technical fields. My sister and I have big plans to extend the reach of Nerdy Girls, The Robot Underground, and Spicy Meatbots to help kids in communities around the globe. We need people from all backgrounds to become the builders of our new world, and I want to do everything in my power to make this path accessible to those who want to help steer humanity through what lies ahead.

My Resumé

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