Curiosity about the world drives Christina Li. It’s the reason she remains fascinated about the world of technology, robots and computer science, and teaches herself new skills every day. It’s also how she ended up creating a STEM day camp for young girls, and inspires her passion for immigrant communities. This passionate, well-spoken young woman is using her smarts and her platform to bring women into the field of technology. We need more curious, inspiring leaders like her to make the world a more equitable place.
College: Stanford University
Majors: Computer Science & Electrical Engineering with a minor in Mechanical Engineering focused on Mechatronics/Robotics
Expected Graduation: 2020
Website, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram
You created Hello World to help resolve the gender disparity in the tech industry. What was your inspiration for starting the computer science camp for middle schoolers?
I’ve always loved building things, but when I joined FIRST robotics team #217, the ThunderChickens, I really fell in love with engineering and computer science. I learned how to code by programming our robot, making it launch balls into goals and dance and swerve around. However, as fun as it was, I was one of few technical girls on the team, and I became curious about why this tech gender gap existed. According to the National Center for Women in Information Technology (NCWIT), only a small percentage of software engineers are women. I wanted to do something to help raise that number and show younger girls how cool technology is, and how they can build it themselves. As a result, in 2015, I started Hello World to teach girls how to program websites, apps, games, and even robots. I wanted to target younger girls because middle school is when they start losing confidence in themselves. In a (currently) male-dominated industry like tech, it was really important to me that this is the time that they learn they are smart enough and capable of learning something as powerful as coding.
Do you have any advice for fellow college students who might want to help create gender equality in the tech world, but might not be well-versed in technology themselves? How can they help spread a similar message when they might be vulnerable to imposter-syndrome because they aren’t a “tech expert”?
Learning how to code is something that everyone should learn because it’s becoming more and more important in the 21st century. Whether you’re an English major or a theoretical physicist, learning how to code basic scripts will always come in handy. If you want to help create gender equality in the tech world, try taking a coding class and you might be surprised at how much you like it! However, even if it turns out that directly building tech isn’t your thing, you can encourage gender equality in other ways, like encouraging companies to use gender-blind or race-blind interviewing, or through mentorship programs for minority groups. There are so many non-technical ways to improve tech gender equality! You don’t need to be a “tech expert” to be an advocate for tech gender equality, just like you don’t have to be a sea turtle to be an advocate for sea turtles.
How has your own passion for technology grown since you started Hello World?
Since starting Hello World, I’ve branched out from just being a self-proclaimed code monkey to learning bits and pieces about mechanical engineering and electrical engineering. During my senior year of high school, I took two shop classes in precision machining and welding, which encouraged my interest in design and manufacturing. I joined the Stanford Solar Car team as a college freshman to help manufacture the array for our car, then joined the Mars Rover team to become the mechanical lead for our competition robot. This past summer, I’ve been a Vehicle Engineering Automation intern at SpaceX, helping operations go smoother.
However, throughout these last few years, I’ve still been pursuing a computer science degree and taking classes in mechatronics and operating systems. My passion for technology has definitely grown since starting Hello World, mostly from expanding the scope of things I wanted to learn and build in order to gain a better appreciation of the entire system, not just a singular mechanical part or just the code. I’m just curious about everything and how things work, and by having a small background in computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, I’ve slowly been able to understand the world a little better, which in turn just drives me to learn even more.
And how do you think other women can find their own unique voice so they can say, “Hello, world,” as well?
If you specifically want to learn how to code, there are so many online resources to help you! I’ve been able to teach middle school girls using a mixture of Scratch, Snap!, Finch robots, MIT AppInventor and HTML/CSS, but there’s also Codecademy, Code.org, Udemy/Coursera classes, and so much more. If you’re in high school, FIRST robotics was how I got really thrown into the engineering world, and I highly recommend it because you learn an incredible amount.
There are so many problems in the world that need voices to bring attention to and help fix them. From tweeting about a little known problem, to registering to vote for qualified candidates, to leading an activism campaign, there are so many ways to get involved now to fix problems. More and more people seem to be paying attention to young people and college students as a source of change in the world, so we should step up and use our voices for progressive change.
Beyond inspiring young women to curate their passion in the tech industry, what other issues or causes are you passionate about?
One issue I’m very passionate about is immigration. My parents emigrated here from China when they were in their 20s and had my brothers and I (I’m a triplet). They’ve always emphasized the value of school and learning, stressing that the only way to be successful is to work hard. As I grew up, I realized how lucky my parents were to get legal citizenship here, as well as how lucky I was to grow up in a stable household. However, that lesson of “hard work=success” isn’t true for every immigrant here.
Many undocumented immigrants came to America not to get free health care or free food stamps (both which are almost impossible to get without Social Security, which most don’t have), but to try and create a better life for themselves and their children. Instead of helping the “tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and offering a better path for citizenship for refugees and those wanting a better life, our current government wants to build walls. As citizens, we have to remember that this country was built by indigenous people and immigrants, and America can only truly be great if we help those who need it most.
How do you keep yourself motivated in your professional and academic endeavors?
I try to keep motivated by learning something new every day, whether it’s something in school or something I found on the Internet. Learning about cool applications of engineering and futuristic tech by reading articles or watching YouTube videos definitely keeps me motivated to keep learning the core fundamentals in school, in hopes that one day I will know enough to build and work on those cool things myself.
Chelsea is the Health Editor and How She Got There Editor for Her Campus. In addition to editing articles about mental health, women's health and physical health, Chelsea contributes to Her Campus as a Feature Writer, Beauty Writer, Entertainment Writer and News Writer. Some of her unofficial, albeit self-imposed, responsibilities include arguing about the Oxford comma, fangirling about other writers' articles, and pitching Her Campus's editors shamelessly nerdy content (at ambiguously late/early hours, nonetheless). When she isn't writing for Her Campus, she is probably drawing insects, painting with wine or sobbing through "Crimson Peak." Please email any hate, praise, tips, or inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org