We first met Amy when she spoke, and totally blew us away, at New York Tech Meetup’s meetup for women. Amy is a native New Yorker who has been coding practically since birth. She is currently studying computer science at Carnegie Mellon where she also heads up ScottyLabs, a student organization whose mission is to put tech knowledge into practice in practical ways, like creating API standards for colleges and cool things like that! When not organizing a hackathon or a ‘SkillSwap,’ Amy can be found tweeting @amyquispe.
When did you first become interested in technology and how did you know it was the right path for you?
I was first introduced to programming by my sixth grade math teacher. I had this heavy QBASIC tutorial and didn’t really know what I was doing. For the next few years, I coded on the side. I thought it was useful; it made my math homework easier. However, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I really knew technology was right for me. I was lucky enough to go to Stuyvesant High School, which has a great computer science program, and I learned that there was this whole field with the kind of math I liked to do, and programming, which was kind of like useful math.
What skills do you think the next generation of female leaders need to master to have a seat at the table?
I think future female leaders need to get used to asking for help. For example, I know a lot of people that will ask “What was it like to intern at that company?” but won’t be bold enough to ask me to pass on their resume. Using your network is not cheating – it’s how you get ahead.
You are one of the few females in the incredibly rigorous undergraduate CS program at Carnegie Mellon. Can you describe what it’s been like to be part of the program and how you’ve learned to cope and emerge as a leader?
The way I coped was by emerging as a leader. I really didn’t feel like I fit in at first, but as I got more involved with organizing things in the School of Computer Science, I started to find my place. It was my junior year, when I founded ScottyLabs, that it occurred to me that I wasn’t going to “find” my place – but rather, I was going to create it.
I didn’t found ScottyLabs on purpose. I was working on a side project to make APIs for school data and slowly that project turned into a group of students dedicated to encouraging innovation among the technical students at CMU. When we threw our first hackathon, we had no idea if it was going to work – but we tried really hard and put on this huge event (that truly excited the student body).
ScottyLabs is perfect for me – but I had to make it. There was nothing like it at CMU before I came. I’m starting to realize that I can make the changes I want, in order to make CMU a happier place for me. More importantly, I now have a lot more faith that I can carve out my own place in the world if I ever feel like I don’t fit in.
What do you love most about programming?
I think there’s something magical about the fact that code is easily portable. I can solve my own problems with code – but if I put in a little bit of extra thought, I can also solve the same problem for lots of other people.
If you could design an app that would solve any problem in the world, what would it be?
I’d love to see a good translation service. Maybe Duolingo will show us how it’s done, but I think that this is becoming more important as more people get on the Internet, and it would be a shame to not have the world’s knowledge globally accessible as advertised.
Thank you to Alberto Reyes for the beautiful photo.