Aspirations in Computing

Katie Johnson was named a runner-up for the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing award.

FAIRBANKS - Katie Johnson is just a freshman in high school, but she is already getting recognition for her aptitude for coding and computer science.

This week, Johnson was named as a runner up for the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing award. The award, given out by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, aims to celebrate and engage young women who have a passion for computer science.

Several thousand high school students from around the country applied for the awards. The top 11 percent, including Johnson, were honored as runners up.

To compete for the award, Johnson had to write three essays to the committee: one detailing a meaningful coding experience, another showing an example of her leadership in her community and a third laying out her future plans and goals.

In 2013, Johnson traveled with her sister, parents and several other teammates to Australia to compete in a FIRST Tech Challenge event, part of an international robotics competition. Johnson had worked on much of the code for her team’s entry. When she showed her work to Andy Marshal, a representative of National Instruments, the company that designed the programming language she used, Marshal was impressed. He used her work during a workshop as an example for other teams.

For years, teams competing in FIRST have coded using Lab VIEW, a visual programming language with which Johnson has become quite familiar. After meeting Marshal in Australia, she received sponsorship from National Instruments to take the test to become a certified Lab VIEW associate developer, and she’s in the process of becoming fully certified.

This year, though, FIRST changed its programming language of choice from Lab VIEW to Java, a text-based language. That didn’t stop Johnson. This summer, she worked with Brandon Marken, a computer science graduate student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, to learn Java. She has also begun learning Python, another increasingly popular programming language.

Johnson also has no difficulty demonstrating her work in the community. Since starting FIRST tech challenge four years ago, she has spread her love of coding to others around the world. Nacquarie University in Australia brought her in via video conference to speak to educators taking a course to become FIRST coaches.

Two weeks ago, Johnson and her sister, Colleen, traveled to Bethel to work with several teams who are competing in their own FIRST tournament, helping the teams to program and wire their robots.

Johnson continues to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge with her teammates. In addition, she has joined a FIRST Robotics team in Australia as a remote member, helping to code their larger-scale robot.

Right now, she is undertaking ninth grade, being homeschooled by her parents Sharon and Tom Johnson. In the future she hopes to earn a degree in a computer science field. She isn’t exactly sure how she would like to put that to use, but she has a particular interest in control systems and the recent work by SpaceX to land a reusable rocket upright on solid ground.

Either way, she hopes to continue learning as much about programming as possible.

Contact staff writer Weston Morrow at 459-7520. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMschools.