Seven-year-old Anvitha Vijay had a dream of building a mobile app. With only $130 in her piggy bank (which took her entire lifetime to collect), she realized that she didn’t have enough money to pay a developer to build the app for her. So she spent a year watching free coding tutorials on YouTube and the web, and learned how to program.
“Coding was so challenging,” Vijay said, now two years older. “But I’m so glad I stuck with it.”
This year, Vijay, who lives in Australia is fulfilling another dream of hers. She is the youngest attendee at WWDC, Apple’s annual developer conference. Like many of her fellow attendees, Vijay has created a handful of apps for Apple’s iPhone and iPad. But the biggest difference between her and the thousands of other developers who will flock San Francisco’s Moscone Center on Monday is that Vijay is now only nine years-old.
Vijay is attending WWDC as part of Apple’s scholarship program, which gives hundreds of free tickets to developers from around the world who are creating apps for Apple devices. This year’s group of recipients saw the most winners under the age of 18, and a more diverse crowd than years past. Out of 350 recipients, 120 of the lucky winners are students under the age of 18. Submissions increased by 215% more than doubled from organizations focused on science, technology, engineering, and math.
The number of women who applied for the scholarship tripled this year, and this year, 22% of scholarship winners are women, which is an increase from last year.
Apple has been making a bigger effort to diversify WWDC, which like most tech conferences, has been overwhelmingly attended by white and Asian males. Scott Lilly, who is vice president of programs at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, said that Apple approached his organization to offer scholarships to WWDC last year. “I think they are making sure that diversity is represented,” Lilly said. Under that program this year, Lilly is sending two female African American college students and three African American men to WWDC. Last year, Lilly was only able to send three students.
Coalition for Queens, a nonprofit organization that works to help teach technical skills to Queens residents in New York City, is sending four aspiring developers to WWDC this your through the program, said founder Jukay Hsu, compared to two participants last year. Hsu said all the attendees are women and or people of color.
For Vijay, who is of Indian descent, developing apps is about empowering children. Vijay’s apps were inspired by her toddler sister, who was learning how to talk and identify animals. Her brainchild was the Smartkins Animals app, which uses sounds, and flashcards to help teach children 100 different animals’ names and sounds. She then developed another similar interactive iOS app for children to help them learn colors.
When describing the process of developing an iOS app, Vijay sounds more like a programmer than a nine year old. “Turning an idea for an app involves a lot of hard work,” Vijay explained. “There are so many components to building an app, including prototyping, design and wirreframing, user interface design and then coding and testing.”
She’s already working on her next app, which wants to help kids her won age with setting goals.
Vijay applied for a scholarship for WWDC by applying online. As for her trip to WWDC, Vijay will travel thousands of miles from her hometown in Melbourne, Australia to the Bay Area with her parents and sister.
“It’s my dream to go to WWDC and meet Tim Cook,” Vjay said.