Young computer scientist shares her open source story

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My open source story CC BY-SA 4.0.

I've been using open source for a while—seven years, to be exact. That may not seem like a long time, but when you're 16 that's almost half your life. My open source story is that of discovery, education, and mentoring opportunities. I've been extremely lucky.

I got started with open source in fifth grade over Christmas break. My Dad showed me how to write bash scripts on Linux in what we called "Daddy's Computer Camp." That February, I made my Dad a Valentine's Day robot that had bash code on the front.

Photo by Lauren Egts. CC BY-SA 4.0

Next, I started learning Scratch at home and at Hathaway Brown School (Thanks, Mr. Allen!). Scratch is a kid-friendly programming language that teaches the fundamentals of programming. With Scratch, I gained confidence in my programming abilities. I started to be able to help other people in my intro to computer science class. Helping my classmates made me realize that I could show other people how to program with Scratch.

Knowing that I could help other people with their code gave me the confidence to begin to go to Maker Faires. I began by demonstrating my first video game, The Great Guinea Pig Escape. After two years of demonstrating at local Mini Maker Faires, I had my demo of the game down, a handout, and a workshop set up. This is where the story gets really interesting. While presenting at the Cleveland Mini Maker Faire at age 14, I met Herb Schilling from NASA. When I was 15, I spent several weeks over the summer at the GVIS lab where Herb works.

An early project at NASA was the Raspberry Pi wall. This summer, I learned JavaScript to work with the fluid flow dynamics simulation. I also got the chance to involve myself with a number of different projects in my lab. One of the really important things I learned as an intern was that I can't do everything alone; and that often the best way to get something done is to do it with other people. I can't thank Herb Schilling and Calvin Robinson enough for letting me work in their lab. At NASA, I found what I like to do, where I like to do it, and what I want to do for the rest of my life. This is precious information, especially since many of my peers are struggling to know what they want to do with their lives. Thanks to the incredible opportunities I've had, I already know what I want to do and am well prepared to do it.

I probably wouldn't have pursued my interest in programming had it not been for some incredible people I met along the way. I wouldn't be programming in the first place without my dad, David Egts. Ian Charnas of Case Western Reserve's Think[box] showed me that even though I was young, I could still achieve great things. Mel McGee of We Can Code IT was the first woman I met in a technology field and is someone that I continue to look up to. Herb Schilling, Calvin Robinson, and the entire GVIS lab at NASA Glenn gave me my first look at what having a job in computer science was like, and from that experience I learned that computer science was 100% what I wanted to do. I also have to thank Jen Wike Huger and the team. Without them I would have never been able to share my story and projects with such an amazing group of people.

This is my open source story. My story started when I was a little girl with pigtails and glasses and a "top secret" Valentine's Day mission. Through interacting with the open source community and experiencing the power of open source, I have gained incredible knowledge, skills, and confidence. I'm no longer a little girl with pigtails—but I am going to inspire as many other little girls and boys to explore computer science and the amazing things people can do when they are part of a community that cultures innovation and sharing.

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Lauren Egts, a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, has interned at Bank of America, GE Aviation, and the NASA Glenn Research Center Graphics and Visualization Lab (GVIS). She has won the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Ohio Affiliate Award four times, and the National Runner-Up Award once.


What a great story, Lauren! I hope to meet you some day, perhaps at an event. You rock!

Great story!
Looks like you'll go far!

Great story Lauren! You are a role model for other students. I love your bash Valentine.

Hi Lauren! Awesome story - thank you for sharing!

Hi Lauren - That was a great inspiring story, even for us old folks. I really liked the way you gave credit to others and thanked them. A very classy move!

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