Emma Yang compares learning to program to finding a superpower or learning to use the Force. It was that powerful to her, right from the beginning.
Born in Hong Kong to a STEM household (her father is in computer science, her mother is a mathematician), Yang learned to program at home when she was eight years old. She started on the tutorial platform Scratch, and moved to larger programming languages and programming robots quickly.
When she was 10 years old, she and her family moved to New York City, and Yang began to attend The Brearley School, an all-girls’ private school in Manhattan. She joined the school’s robotics team immediately, and began to enter coding competitions. When Yang was 11, she and a partner coded “ConcussionChecker,” an app for coaches and adult supervisors involved with children’s sports to help them screen quickly for concussion. It’s a remarkably sophisticated app, using a concussion-evaluation protocol based on broad surveys of coaches and sports medicine professionals, with the ability to store incident data by player, contact pre-programmed medical help, and link to Apple Maps for quick directions. The app was a finalist in Technovation, a STEM app-building contest for girls age 10-18.
That was last year. This year, Yang is twelve and in the eighth grade, and her newest app to help people in need is even more ambitious.
Yang’s grandmother, who lives in Hong Kong, has Alzheimer’s disease, and her cognition and memory are both deeply affected. “Timeless,” the new app, is meant to help her stay connected with the people in her life. It uses facial recognition to help one remember the names of family and friends, and detects if a user is about to call someone they just called. It isn’t finished, but Yang would also like it to be able to remind users not to wander off from their homes. It is the first app of its kind.
The potential for technology to be able to help those in need of help is what Yang says inspires her, and she plans to keep making helper apps as she builds her skills.