Fifteen & On Fire | Princess Sampson – Developer, Teacher, Volunteer

Princess Sampson isn’t the typical high schooler you see these days (aloof, stubborn, and glued to their cellphone). When Sampson’s not studying for high school assessment exams, you can find her at the head of the classroom teaching courses at Iron Yard, or volunteering at Opportunity Hub. And over the summer, while many teens hit the pool, Sampson tackled code at a front-end engineering intensive course and considered her options for early college enrollment. We were floored to hear all of her accomplishments as a bright-eyed 15-year-old, so we got the scoop on how she’s grown up in the tech world.

Where are you in school & what’s your major?
I’m 15, and I’m still in high-school, although right now I’m currently studying for the SAT and ACT. Everyone says I should look at Stanford or MIT, but I’m looking into early enrollment at Spelman College. Their African Diaspora & The World, Dual Degree in Engineering, and Comparative Women’s Studies majors pique my interest. Even though I’m in tech I think it’s important to incorporate the humanities into my worldview.

What cool tech projects are you currently working on?
I enjoy participating in the transformative cultures of the things I read or the shows I enjoy watching, like Star Wars, Legend of Korra, and Marvel. In other words, I’m big into fandom, especially fanfiction and story/visual analysis. While fandoms are barter-based communities, they do have problems – from organizing what you’ve read to recommending a set of stories to many people at once – and I’m trying to figure out how to use my skills to solve them.

This summer I taught an “Intro to HTML and CSS” kids’ course at the Iron Yard, and gave one-hour “Intro to Code” talks to students from the Compound Foundation’s CEO Academy and Nigeria’s Gregory University. Right now, I’m volunteering with Opportunity Hub to pipeline young people of color into STEAM opportunities.

What startup/tech projects have you previously worked on?
In July, I graduated from the Iron Yard’s Front-End Engineering Intensive, so I spent this summer pushing lots of code — you can view my portfolio here. For my final project, I developed the front-end for a web app called Leet. It’s based on an idea my parents had about business travelers that are unaware of shared layovers, but could make beneficial job, contract, business development and capital-raising connections. Everyone loved the idea, especially my instructor Tim. Two Ruby developers (a retired pilot and a Delta contractor) volunteered to work with me, and their input was invaluable. It was an awesome experience.

What tech/tools are essential to you?
The terminal, Git, Atom, Gulp, Simplenote, Angular, aside from my phone and computer. But tech is all about problem-solving, and without living life, you won’t run into problems. I recently learned that Steve Jobs didn’t let his kids have iPhones. That fact is super interesting to me because my parents strive to keep my siblings and me modern via access to technology. My family loves spending time outdoors and traveling, and our phones and computers enhance those experiences. I think the distinction between enhancement and addiction is we’re taught to use our tools to create, instead of just consuming the work of others.

So life and experience are the most essential tools, really.

What are your best technical or creative skills?
I’m a storyteller at heart, so my instinct is to edit and simplify anything on which I’m working. “How can I make this easier, faster, more accessible?” Not so much for me as the end user. It’s important to have an application’s base functionality down over its styling, otherwise you have a static page instead of an app. I’m great at visualizing how I want what I’m building to be used, and that folds over into design.

What’s next on your list to learn?
Frameworks like Node.js and Ionic, since they allow you to create backend or mobile apps using JavaScript, which is usually restricted to the web. Before I learned to code, my dad used to tease me about learning Ruby, but now I know there’s nothing like a custom backend. Also more general purpose, scalable languages like Java and Scala, since I intend to build something that’s going to need scaling.

Why the interest in startups and the technology field?
In 2000, my dad was working on a tech startup and I was five months old, so I cut my teeth on startups. I’m the baby that was always around the computer, the company, the conversation. And it may sound normal now, but when I was 18 months I had my own computer programs. By the time I was seven, I had my own laptop.

Up until last year, I was always busy with some venture: Selling acrylic and oil paintings, making jewelry, cakes, Valentine’s cards, and friendship-bracelets. When I was eleven, I taught myself HTML and CSS, then Photoshop when I was 13. I also completed courses on building webpages, programming robots and Arduino circuit boards, and creating Android and Scratch apps.

When are you available?
As a homeschooler, I’m flexible but it depends.