Three WWDC Swift Student Challenge Winners Are Poised to Change the World
Apple’s WWDC21 Swift Student Challenge
With Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference right around the corner, Apple fans and software developers alike are eagerly awaiting the announcements, updates, and teasers that are sure to come. This will be the second year in a row the event is held in an online-only format, but millions of attendees are expected to tune in to the various keynotes, developer seminars, and Q&A sessions. WWDC 2021 kicks off Monday, June 7th and runs through Friday, June 11th.
One of the most fun and exciting parts of each year’s conference is the Swift Student Challenge. Young aspiring developers are tasked with creating and coding their own software package in Apple’s proprietary Swift language. These teenagers and high schoolers are encouraged to put their ingenuity to use by building a creative Swift Playground that demonstrates their coding and problem-solving skills.
Apple hand reviews each submission and selects 350 winners from 35 different countries and regions around the globe. Winners receive all kinds of cool physical rewards including hats, jackets, pins, and stickers. Beyond that, winners also are eligible for a free year of Apple Developer Program membership which not only saves them $99 but also continues to foster their professional growth.
“Every year, we are inspired by the talent and ingenuity that we see from our Swift Student Challenge applicants,” said Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Developer Relations and Enterprise and Education Marketing. “This year, we are incredibly proud that more young women applied and won than ever before, and we are committed to doing everything we can to nurture this progress and reach true gender parity.”
Among this year’s group of winners were three young women in particular who stood out for not only utilizing technology to solve real-world problems, but also for being actively involved in teaching the next generation to do the same. They are forging their own paths while ensuring others have the tools and opportunities to follow in their footsteps – all before they have even graduated high school.
Feeding The Needy
When the Coronavirus pandemic sent the country into a lockdown, Gianna Yan’s immunocompromised grandparents struggled to get basic necessities like groceries delivered to their home in Hawaii. “My sister and I felt especially driven to help because we were so far away and couldn’t physically be there for them,” said Yan who lives in Oakland, California.
So at just 16 years old, Gianna and her sister created Feed Fleet, an app that pairs volunteers with at-risk individuals in need of assistance. These volunteers can gather any needed supplies and safely deliver them right to the user’s doorstep in compliance with any special instructions. From there, Yan has since joined up with The Farmlink Project, a student-created non-profit that helps connect farmers with local food banks for easy donations of any surplus produce. With the help of her software development skills, The Farmlink Project has helped stock the shelves of food banks with over 30 million pounds of redirected food in the last year that would have otherwise gone to waste.
Gianna is also building an app that helps students create and file reports for incidents of sexual assault on school campuses, as well as another app that assists with breast cancer self-examinations and detecting heart disease in women. These are just the projects she’s become involved in since the start of the pandemic.
Yan first became interested in technology at the age of 13, when she created a web app that sought to increase voter turnout and political engagement among millenials. That app went on to win the Congressional App Challenge, and scored Gianna a meeting with her congresswoman, Barbara Lee. “After that conversation,” said Yan, “where we were talking about the digital divide within our shared city of Oakland, I started my own workshop teaching BIPOC elementary school students how to code.”Ever since then, she’s taught nearly 100 students the foundations of coding and development through her workshop, Encode Change.
“If we foster the next generation with an emphasis on diversity, we’ll continue the acceleration of innovation within tech,” said Yan. “I think it’s really important that people from diverse backgrounds are able to have their voices heard so that we can best identify the problems that most affect our world.”
Improved Access to Medical Information and Ethical AI
The intersection of technology and medicine holds a special place in Abinaya Dinesh’s life. Last year, when she was only 14 years old, Dinesh was left confused and looking for answers after an unfortunate medical diagnosis. “I went to a gastroenterologist and he diagnosed me with a pelvic floor disorder,” said Dinesh, “but then told me nothing about how I was supposed to get better.”
Not wanting anyone else to feel as lost as she did, Dinesh got to work creating her own app out of her Brunswick, NJ home. Set to launch later this summer, Gastro at Home will provide a way for people suffering from gastrointestinal disorders access to comprehensive medical resources and information regarding their symptoms, with particular focus on certain conditions that can be uncomfortable or awkward to talk about.
During the pandemic Dinesh has also started her own nonprofit, Impact AI, to not only promote interest in science and technology for the next generation, but to also ensure advancements in AI are used ethically. To do so, Abinaya launched an eight-week high school program called Girls in AI that teaches young, interested women the basics of machine learning and computer programming.
“I’m super big on teaching,” said Dinesh. “Showing the next generation that this technology exists and can lead to huge advancements in medicine and society is so important. And I’m proud that after the program was over, there were seniors applying to college who told me this experience changed what their major was going to be.”
Once she completes high school, Dinesh has her sights set on medical school or possibly a degree in computer science so she can continue to look for ways to push advancements in the medical field. “I think it’s important that we keep pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” said Dinesh, “because nobody is going to do it for us.”
Hacking the Hackathons
Hackathons are fun, engaging events where programmers and software developers come together to collaborate on challenging projects with very limited time constraints, typically a single day or over a weekend. For 17 year old Damilola Awofisayo of Woodbridge, Virginia, they are a personal favorite. That’s why after a string of unsuccessful applications to hackathons in her area last year, she and a friend decided to create their own.
Together they founded TecHacks, a nonprofit organization that is “committed to creating a supportive environment for girls everywhere to create, problem-solve, and showcase their talents alongside like-minded females to compete and work with.” So far, the team of high schoolers running TecHacks have pulled over 25 corporate sponsors and impacted over 1,000 students.
They held their first hackathon in August of 2020 which drew in over 800 women and non-binary individuals from more than 60 different countries. Awofisayo was born in the US but spent parts of her childhood in Nigeria, so the international outreach was of particular importance to her.
“We started TecHacks with the idea that we know what we like, we know what we don’t like, and we know what can make it better for girls specifically,” Awofisayo said. “I’ve also been able to get other Nigerian girls on our TecHacks team, and it’s important to me that we keep on inspiring people from not only Nigeria but other countries that may not have had the same opportunities as we have here.”
Beyond preparing for their next hackathon this coming August, Damilola helps organize educational coding workshops and an annual fellowship. She’s also currently developing an American Sign Language-related app which she plans on launching sometime later this year.
Looking beyond high school, Awofisayo is hoping to double-major in both computer science and political science so she may effect change where the two disciplines intersect. “Technological innovations are moving at a very fast rate,” she said. “However, there isn’t enough talk about equity or how they need to serve people from all backgrounds. But when you increase the number of girls in tech, you also see a shift in the problems that are being addressed and the solutions. And I’m excited to be a part of that.”
While it’s always exciting to see product announcements, shiny new UI overhauls, and OS upgrades, we can’t gloss over the achievements and accomplishments of young people starting their journey in the tech industry. These bright highs choolers have accomplished in their teens what many people will never do; and they are just three in the pool of 350 winners, who in turn were in a pool of many more applicants. It is imperative that this incredible ingenuity and drive continues to be supported, fostered, and recognized on a global scale through these kinds of challenges and programs.
At Lithios we value outside opinions. This blog was written by one of our guest bloggers, Jonathan Baker, with feedback from the Lithios team.