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Teenage Girl Develops App to Help the Blind

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“The fact that I’m the only girl in my high school interested in going to these hackathons is really sad.” 

By Justin Reyes (Editor-in-chief, Femgineer)

Maitreyee Joshi, senior at Lynbrook High, has a deep passion for building technologies that help the physically and mentally disabled people.

For example, while working at Stanford Research Labs, she built a head controlled quadcopter in order to facilitate movement for her professor’s mute quadriplegic friend. Also, for last year’s science fair project, she wrote an biclustering algorithm that found DNA mutations that caused a brain tumor called Glioblastoma Multiforme.

Currently, Maitreyee is focusing her attention on the blind. Spurred by the popularity of iPhone apps, over the summer she thought of a way she could use one to build a systemized technology for the blind. It wasn’t long till she was able to build an iPhone game app that helped blind people develop their spatial skills and navigate through new environments. Testing it out with the blind proved to be a surprise. After playing the game only twice they were able to map out the entire building they were in.

It was with this that Maitreyee knew that she was onto something, and decided that she would develop it further. Maitreyee is a rarity amongst other girls in her high school in that she is an aspiring tech engineer and interested in things like robotics and hackathons. Although, she is aware that being interested in tech has that nerdy connotation, Maitreyee is thankful that she goes to a high school which is academically focused and welcomes students like her.

But, as she has admitted several times, the experience of sometimes being the only girl interested in tech in her high school can be quite frustrating.

“I wish that I had more friends that are girls that can come along with me to these hackathons. Most of the time I’m with a group of guys all the time, which can get really annoying and sometimes drive you away.”

Maitreyee also recalls a similar experience when she was working on a robotics club in school.

“I would have loved it if the girls on the team were more actively involved in things other than public relations or marketing.”

However, with women like Marissa Mayer and Sheryl Sandberg, Maitreyee is excited at the prospect of being the only femgineer in her high school, which she believes makes her unique and a crusader as well.

“I feel like I’m a fighter going against social conventions, which excites me.”

As Maitreyee begins to scale her iPhone app. she is starting to learn early lessons and face dilemmas that other engineers in startups experience. Before finding success with testing out the app with blind people, Maitreyee continually doubted that the app would work at all. What made it even worse was that she had a meeting with one of the Accessible Technology instructors at the Silicon Valley Blind Center.

“I was scared about showing him my prototype, and that it wouldn’t be good enough.”

Maitreyee was so scared that she canceled the meeting twice.

“I’ve always felt that it wasn’t ready enough, if I had a bit more time to fine-tune, work out the logic, and fix the bugs then it would be fine.”

After a couple of weeks it was time again to meet and present the prototype.

“That night I really wanted to cancel. But I knew that it was starting to get out of control and that I couldn’t keep canceling these meetings.”

Summoning up all her courage she decided just to go with it.

Nervously presenting her prototype, Maitreyee was shocked that her audience enjoyed it when they were testing it out.

“As he went through his thought process and described a verbal layout of the building, I was starting to get excited and thinking that this may actually just work.”

The meeting was just the push that Maitreyee needed to take on the development further.

In hindsight, she knew that she had exaggerated the situation and was stuck in a cycle of thinking that the prototype was never good enough, which she regrets. Asking what advice she would give to others engineers who get stuck in the same cycle of thinking, she replied “Just face your fears, push yourself to go outside, take the leap, and just do it!”

To follow Maitreyee progress you can visit her website at www.maitreyeejoshi.com.

This post originally appeared on Femgineer

Have you, like Maitreyee, had to push yourself to show your work to others?

headshotAbout the blogger: Justin Reyes is the editor-in-chief of Femgineer, which provides female software engineers and high tech professionals with skill to better themselves at work. Follow him on Twitter @itsjustreyes