Madison Mahoney

About 100 middle- and high-school students packed into Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Friday afternoon for the debut of Yale’s Computer Science Demo Day.

The Computer Science Demo Day, which was organized by Annie Chen ’19 and Amanda Lee ’20, featured 11 “lightning talks” — talks less than five minutes in length — and one panel, which allowed attendees to ask speakers their questions about computer science. Subjects of the talks ranged from robot coding to manipulation of Facebook camera filters.

“We wanted to show them that there’s no one type of computer science major,” Chen said. “We tried to get a wide range of speakers and panelists who’d worked on some very different projects and come from different experience levels. We had first years who’d started coding in middle school and juniors who hadn’t started coding till college.”

The event was inspired in part by a teacher who runs a coding club at a nearby middle school, according to Chen. He knew Lee through her involvement with Code Haven, a club that teaches middle schoolers to code, and reached out to her to inquire about an event educating students about diversity in computer science. Chen and Lee then began to organize the event, which was widely attended by the teacher’s students. They also advertised the event through SheCode and YHack’s Code Boola, two Yale-based coding organizations.

The speakers all designed their “lightning talks” to cater to the young audience. One speaker, Omid Rooholfada ’20, demonstrated how to code Sphero, a small spherical robot. Rooholfada made the robot dance by instructing Sphero to spin and roll across the stage, mystifying the students present. At the end of Rooholfada’s “lightning talk,” several students were standing on their chairs, attempting to get a better view of the tiny robot.

Another speaker, Shivam Sarodia ’19, showed the students a computer game he designed as a high school student. The game, which he dubbed “Color Scout,” involved identifying colorful blocks that were out of place on a grid. Sarodia asked the audience to play the game with him, and the students accepted the challenge, guiding him to select the odd color out by pointing and yelling “There!” He then showed images of another app he created in high school, which allowed students at his school to check their grades through their phones.

Sarodia emphasized that tutorials and guides for coding are available on the Internet, and that anyone with a level of interest has the ability to create these games and apps themselves.

“My main takeaway is that you don’t need to be a college student, or a professor, or even to take really hard classes to know how to code,” Sarodia said. “If there’s something you want to make, go ahead and give it a shot! Find some tutorials online and go for it.” 

The event concluded with a 30-minute question-and-answer panel moderated by Chen, featuring juniors and first years with varying interests and experiences with computer science.

Given the success of the first computer science Demo Day, Chen said, she hopes to see the event continue. She also sees a mutual benefit in having Yale students speak to the students.

“I think there are a lot of people at Yale doing very cool things with programming and tech,” she said. “Telling middle schoolers about them is a great low pressure way to share what they’re working on.”

Madison Mahoney | madison.mahoney@yale.edu