I don’t leave my house without… my earbuds.
People would say that I am… ambitious.
The most important aspect of any business is… communication.
My favorite business book of all time is… the one I’ll hopefully write someday.
My favorite entrepreneurial organization is… #BUILTBYGIRLS.
I’m one of the co-founders of def hacks(), a 24 hour biannual hackathon for high school students by high school students. Our mission is to try to help high school students of all backgrounds and experience levels work on their computer science skills and facilitate them getting involved in the world of technology. Myself and my co-founder, Emily Redler, noticed the lack of resources for beginning high school hackers at coding events, such as hackathons, and decided to alleviate the problem with our own hackathon, catered to the wants and needs of the typical high schooler. Since October of 2015, over 400 students have been reached by def hacks() at events in New York City, Edison, NJ, San Francisco, and Seattle.
After the widespread success of def hacks(), as well as some internal conflict and hard discussions, Emily and I decided to terminate the def hacks() brand and start a new project. Now that we're both in college, it became more relevant to target college-aged coders, especially those who are going into tech majors with less experience than their classmates. Not only that, but we realized that today's political climate has perpetuated a divisive mindset in America, whereas tech is meant to be inclusive and striving to be diverse. It is for those reasons that myself and my partner have shifted our focus to FwdCode, a college hackathon for unity and social good.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far when it comes to your business? What helped you get there? Was this accomplishment a clear goal or did it happen by chance?
When I was working on the first def hacks() event, I was a 17-year-old first-time intern who hated speaking on the phone and didn’t know how to make a sponsorship deck or cold call a company. My partner and I had to start from scratch and dig into our small networks to find people and companies who would be willing to give us anything: a venue, food, money, even stickers to use as swag. I spent my lunch breaks taking phone calls with executives, trying to convince them that, although my partner and I had no experience planning hackathons, def hacks() would be a success, with their support of course. Then one afternoon, when my partner and I were touring potential venues, we ended up at ThoughtWorks, which immediately put our event on their calendar, shook our hands, and said to tell them if we needed anything. It was such a sudden success that we were taken aback, but after that, it all clicked: def hacks() would be a reality. Someone had finally taken us seriously, and with no hesitation, mind you. That first major sponsor and connection set everything into motion and increase our confidence in our cause exponentially, because if a real-life company thought we could be a success, we had to think the same.
What does it mean to have competition/competitors? Do you compete/collaborate or just observe? What is the best practice to approach your competition?
Competition is something that I have come to respect and appreciate in my many endeavors both inside and outside of the tech sphere. When it’s healthy, competition can increase innovation and the number and quality of products being released and developed. I try to learn and grow from my competition, whether it’s that their hackathon had a higher number of attendees or they were featured in a newsletter, in order to be the best person and professional that I can be. I try to approach competition with an open mind, realizing that they may know something that I don’t or may be more experienced than myself in a certain field, and acknowledge their successes, as well as my own. A key note to take into consideration when evaluating your competition is that they are different people who have different stories and experiences, which is why they may experience higher results of success in certain aspects and vice versa.
Do you have hobbies? What are they? Is it important to take “time off” and focus on other things such as friends, family, hobbies etc.?
If I spend too much time coding or making spreadsheets, I get overwhelmed and end up getting nothing done because I’m too frazzled about everything I have to do. I’m someone who loves to occupy herself; for example, I currently have a full-time internship at Girls Who Code, am founding and rebranding my two hackathons, revamping my blog, and exercising regularly. I love everything I do, but I do need time to just sit and stare at a wall blankly in order to get my mind in order. I particularly enjoy reading the many YA novels that I brought to college but never opened, writing essays for a book I hope to eventually publish, seeing almost every good movie in theaters, taking Instagram-worthy photo shoots, practicing softball with my siblings, and trying new and strange and colorful foods. I make sure to take at least a few hours every day to sit down and open a book or my journal or take a walk or honestly anything outside of work/tech—it helps me to relax and center myself, and sometimes can be the catalyst for some of my best ideas!
What is failure?
Failure to me has many definitions. It can be not following through on something to the best of your ability. It can be making a mistake and not learning from it, instead just giving up or changing your plans completely. It can be only taking on projects in your comfort zone and never trying to do something new. As long as you are passionate and driven and qualified (or at least surrounded by qualified people), you can accomplish anything, and any setback that gets you off that track of innovation and enthusiasm for what you do is failure.