Editor's Note: This post is part of a series produced by HuffPost's Girls In STEM Mentorship Program. Join the community as we discuss issues affecting women in science, technology, engineering and math.
This column features stories from students exploring the intersection of creativity and technology through Hive Learning Network programs in NYC and Chicago.
I happen to be lucky enough to grow up in Silicon Valley -- the central hub of technology and business, a place buzzing with venture capitalists, CEOs, and budding entrepreneurs. Within a ten minute drive, I can look up at the towering offices of Yahoo!, marvel at the Google self-driving cars, and see the "like" billboard which guards the entrance to Facebook.
I love it here. To put it simply, living in the Silicon Valley is inspiring. It makes me feel that I am important, that I can make changes. It makes me feel that, when I grow up, I can, too, be an active member of the constantly evolving technological world. And after my experience competing in the Technovation Challenge, I feel as though I am one step closer to doing so.
Technovation is an international women-only competition that asks girls to create and pitch Android apps designed for a specific purpose. This year, the purpose was quite broad--our app had to help the community. In the fall of 2012, I approached four of my friends with the idea of competing in Technovation. It was our first year doing it, and I knew as little about it as they did; but they were all intrigued by the idea and agreed to be part of the team.
That was the easy part.
The next few months involved a large amount of brainstorming and planning. We jotted down many ideas, but eventually had to sit down and choose one that we could work off of. We eventually decided upon our idea of pets.
Our app, named Pet Stop, was designed to help the community by providing a central place that could take care of all the needs of a pet-owner. The app integrates the user's GPS location to display local vets, shops, and pet parks in the neighborhood, as well as show adoptable pets in the area. It also provides users with a lost and found pet database, where they can report whether they lost or found a pet, rather than physically posting signs.
Creating the app itself, using a software tool called AppInventor, took a majority of the time, and we are extremely grateful for the help from our two mentors, Divya and Ditaya, who study computer science at Carnegie Mellon. In addition to the app, however, our team also had to write a business plan and film a pitch, detailing our app and its value to potential investors. By the time April 2013 rolled around, we had submitted all three deliverables and were anxiously waiting to see if we had made the top ten finalists. We did.
The finals of the competition took place at the Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, where we saw our nine other competitors from all over the world--England, Nigeria, Brazil, to name a few. It was absolutely remarkable to see the apps other teams had come up with, the difficulties that they had constructing them, and how they overcame those obstacles. At the finals, we presented our pitch to a live audience and a panel of judges, and ended up placing second.
Just short of the ten thousand dollars the fist place winner gets to develop their app further.
Just short of the chance to get our app out on the app store.
After they announced the results, the first thing I remember doing was congratulating the first place winners. The second thing I remember doing was asking myself why I didn't feel disappointed. The last thing I remember doing was laughing as I hugged my teammates. Because none of us were disappointed. Because, instead, we felt proud--of ourselves, of our work, of each other.
Looking back on the experience, there are so many things I learned during the competition that I wouldn't have learned at school--how to divide up a large project into achievable goals, how to be personable when presenting a pitch. However, if I were to look at the bigger picture, I would say that the most important thing I learned was how important it is for women to take leadership and optimize on opportunities such as these.
Technovation is an all-girls competition to encourage more women in tech. Many girls (I used to be one of them) feel as though computer science is a field where one simply sits behind a desk, staring at a computer monitor and typing all day. Not a very exciting, glamorous job. Technovation defies that myth. The competition shows that being in a technological field involves other important skills such as art, design, and public speaking. This competition is not just encouraging women to build apps, but to build the future by becoming leaders. As leaders, we lead future generations by improving technology and making the world a better place to live in. I hope to spread the knowledge of Technovation to others, so they too can feel the gratification of having a vision and using it to build something from scratch. I can honestly say there is no other feeling like it.
Mark Twain once said, "The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up until now. Now I know. I want to change the world. I want to use technology and business to become an entrepreneur and leave my footprint on this earth. Silicon Valley has inspired me, and now I want to help better Silicon Valley's future.
There is a poster hanging in one classroom at my school that shows a picture of the Wright Brothers and their plane. I remember looking at it the day after the Technovation finals, and my face broke into a wide grin. Underneath the picture were two words that had summed up basically everything learned from the experience: "Innovation: Pass It On."