I’m a teenager living in LA who loves to build tech for good. I started out in a robotics class in 2012, and from there, I fell in love with programming by using it to cope through the hardships in my life. I love robots, design, programming, info and communications security, Artificial Intelligence, space, and cat videos from Instagram. My main life goal is to help people who need it the most but get it the least.
My main project is my non-profit, Astra Labs. It’s a non-profit software development company that uses mobile technology to help marginalized communities get around obstacles, so they can see the future they’re meant to have. We have two apps on the App Store: AnxietyHelper - a mental health guidebook that provides information, tools, and resources, and Verena - a fully encrypted security system for members of the LGBTQ+ community in abusive situations. Right now, we just started our beta for our new app called Rally, which is designed to connect every day people with their local non-profit organizations and other people to create tangible political change.
When I was growing up, I faced many struggles, both related to my mental health and illnesses, as well as my own sexuality. While I was in those vulnerable positions, I realized there was nothing that really fit my pretty niche needs that was a) well-maintained, b) didn’t require money, c) didn’t require data that would eventually be sold off to a third party advertising firm. The more I looked into good solutions for issues that fit niche markets, I realized it was either a) super expensive or b) didn’t exist. And so I decided to build AnxietyHelper in 2015, Verena in 2017, and then launch Astra Labs in 2018 as the parent organization for both apps.
I feel it’s very easy to look at the state of the world and become so inept with pain and frustration at so many issues. An issue a lot of my friends struggle with is just the crippling hopelessness of the future, and how hard it is to wake up every day and just do things against the unstable financial and political backdrop that my friends across the spectrum have. I know absolutely 0 people who feel good about the state of the world. And for me, I use these projects to cope with that. These are big systemic issues that can’t be fixed by an app alone, but that shouldn’t stop me from trying. It just helps me to see the state of the world from my view, and say, “I may have zero impact on the world, but if I’m not going to try, who else will?”
“I may have zero impact on the world, but if I’m not going to try, who else will?”
It’s definitely been through word of mouth. Especially since the start of AnxietyHelper, it’s been me and the $0.05 in my bank account. There was absolutely no wiggle room for advertising. People talk, and it spreads through friendship groups fast, especially Verena. We’ve had entire high school GSAs onboarding their club with the app to make sure each other are safe. We have a strong code of ethics that we employ in all of our software, and we even have a company motto: “Trust is the most important user metric”. We never show ads, sell data to 3rd parties, change any costs, or use “dark” or manipulative design patterns. We just provide a product to help people, and not to profit off of them. I know in my heart that when I build these apps, I make the ones that I would want other developers to make on my behalf. There’s also been a lot of support from different companies. Last October, I helped create a Today At Apple Lab with 3 other developers to help people get through the design process to create their own apps. Overall, I think we have a strong message, good products, and strong standards.
Learning. You will never fully know everything. I challenge myself to be at least coherent in knowledge in almost every field in computer science, and to deep dive into them at some points. All of those components interconnect at some point, and to know all of them at a basic level gives you an advantage and new perspective in the way you see things. When I was creating Verena, I was studying information and communication security, as well as design. One of the biggest issues I had when designing that was taking into account all of the different situations in which a member of the LGBTQ+ community might be in danger, and developing a core set of tools to address all of them, AND keep the user safe. One of the tools I came up with was called “incognito mode“, which basically lets you switch out the interface to look like a math, news, or cooking app. So, if you’re a closeted kid in a homophobic situation, you don’t see a security system for the LGBTQ+ community, you see a cooking app. That perspective wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t study communication security or design. I mostly used youtube, twitter, checking out books at my local library, podcasts, and just anything I could get my hands on.
I want to be truly happy with myself and my situation, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. So, hopefully being happy.
My biggest challenge has been myself. I have come to the terms that I will never be satisfied with my work, and I will always want it to be better in one way or the other. I want to do things that aren’t possible for me or my budget, or just my current health situation. Everything I make will always be a work in progress. That’s something I’m still working on: is that something is better than nothing. Perfection is the enemy of getting things done. I’m trying to get over it by reminding myself of the bigger picture. I feel that’s something a lot of people can share in. I generally procrastinate doing things, not because I’m scared of doing them, but because I’m scared of doing them wrong. It’ll always be apart of my personality, but I’m trying to view it as an outside criticism rather than something I should spend energy on. One of the quotes that I found hilarious while going through an eating disorder was “pretend your intrusive thoughts are like a 12 year old boy on Xbox Live Voice Chat”. It’s so hard to get through your own head, because you are the only person who truly knows you through and through. So, when you get these criticisms of yourself in your head, it feels deeply personal, and just digs the trench for you to be obsessed with your own insecurities. But also, we forget we are our own greatest critic. Framing both our perfections and imperfections from an outside point of view helps view them in a different perspective, and helps you get through whatever you’re doing and continue moving forward with what you need to be doing.
Find a community. Find friends. Find people like you. It’s a lot easier to cry for the 5th time during an A/B test because no choice seems to be the right one if you know about someone’s startup that spent $5000 on coffee last week. It’s easier to pave a path forward if you have people paving alongside you. Especially as a younger developer, I felt so stupid next to people who I just met who I considered to be programming prodigies. But later I realized we were all in the same boat.
In a lot of industries, it’s easy to just see appearances of how things work, so find people who will help you explore below the surface, and who navigate the rollercoaster that is sending your ideas out into the world. Those people are going to be the ones who you will rely on when everything goes wrong. So, prioritize having friends as much as you might having connections in your professional network. Those communities can help you find more resources for whatever you need to do, and give you better and more detailed advice than I ever could.