Rise of the Planet of the Apps

For most high school students, the incipient stages of senior year are a time of involuntary self-reflection. With college application season looming, almost every high school senior, myself included, often finds himself or herself trapped in a perpetual writer's block, forced to summarize every single life achievement, failure, and significant experience in 500 words.

It's a difficult process, to say the least. But it can also be quite therapeutic. As I write about my past three years in high school, it is fascinating to see how I have grown over the past couple years and how certain events, people, and memories have shaped me into who I am.

I eventually realized that this whole process was analogous to me watching a movie about myself starring myself. I would like to warn you right now that if you are hoping for a suspenseful action-packed thriller with car chases and incredible heists, I'd stop right here. I have not reached that stage in my life yet.

Rather, this movie is a slightly comedic, family-style, coming-of-age film about a bubbly girl and how she developed her passion for science, technology, and coding.

I call it Rise of the Planet of the Apps starring Amrita Venkatraman. Coming to Theaters near you.

The story starts with a cherished memory from my freshman year of high school: Technovation. Technovation is an international competition offered every year to middle and high school girls interested in designing, building, and pitching their own Android apps. I had just started learning programming when I heard about the competition and I excitedly entered myself and four of my friends in. Together, we built an app that can help owners find their lost pets and locate local vets and adoption centers.

For me, Technovation represented my first exposure to the amazing opportunities coding can offer. I have always been a person interested in design and when I participated in Technovation, I learned how to use code to create beautiful designs and interfaces the catch the user's eye. I have also always been someone who loved business--I love pitching ideas or convincing people why they should buy a certain product or service. (Ask my parents how many times I've tried to convince them to get a dog.) Technovation symbolized an integration of all the little things I loved: design, coding, talking, selling. And after Technovation was over, I realized I could take these passions further by learning more about mobile app building. Cue my sophomore year and junior years of high school.

During my sophomore and junior years, I really started getting into mobile app technology. I eventually realized that there was a specific field that encompassed exactly what I was interested in: human-computer interaction. It was the study of how technology affected people's daily lives, how apps could be used in different occupations--medicine, education, entertainment--to make life easier. My sophomore year of high school I created an app that used the accelerometer of an Android phone to see how much a person shakes, for the detection of early onset of Parkinson's disease. My junior year of high school I built upon the knowledge from the previous year to build an app that detects whether or not a person is too drunk or too sleepy to drive based on his/her balance and cognitive abilities.

Of course, I am not saying that between my freshman and sophomore year, I had some Mark Zuckerberg-esque transformation. Building the apps took a lot of late nights debugging code, distressed emails to my mother's software engineer colleagues, and frantic Google searches usually along the lines of "Why doesn't so-and-so not work?" But after completing these two apps, I learned from my mistakes and was well versed in Android programming; I was therefore excited to share my knowledge with my friends and peers.

I started running workshops sponsored by Technovation at companies like LinkedIn and Google where I taught basic programming to middle and high school girls. Later in the year, I ran more advanced workshops at my high school and in the library to anyone who was interested in learning Android. I signed up for hackathons, where my friends and I stayed up all night coding an app that wakes up sleepy train-riders before their stop based on their location. (To learn more about the hackathon experience, refer to this blog post: Hackathons). With coding, I was exposed to a world of freedom and creativity I could find nowhere else. I was given a blank canvas to build and design whatever I wanted. That's where my passion stems from. And that's what Technovation taught me those three short years ago.

This is where my movie ends and I leave you. For now, at least. My time for reminiscing is over and colleges demand that I put something on paper.

However, be sure to be on the lookout for the sequel: The Rise of the Planet of the Apps 2: Amrita Starts Her Own Company. Hope to see you opening day.