DOers in Action: Teen Coder Eva Zheng Takes on San Francisco

I met Eva Zheng when she came by Twilio for a Women Who Code hack night, ready to start building a Twilio app. After chatting, she mentioned her older brother is Song Zheng, a developer evangelist at TokBox. She came to  San Francisco, from Los Angeles, for the summer to explore the tech scene. Eva began attending hackathons and learning as much code as she could. I should mention, she’s also a rising senior in high school.

A few weeks after I met Eva, her team took the top Twilio API prize at IO Hack. They also snagged the overall best hack of the event, with an app called T2biz.

Eva is making the most of her summer in San Francisco and is an exemplary model of a DOer in action. Read the interview below and get inspired by this young hacker. Make sure to follow her adventures on her blog.

You’re visiting SF for the summer and  you’ve already participated in a bunch of hackathons, including IO Hack where your team took the Twilio prize/SendGrid Prize, and runner up! Tell us about T2biz:

T2Biz is a customer service application that provides efficient integration of texting and emailing in a real-time feed. This helps reduce unnecessary put-on-hold calls, and lets customers get their answers in the quickest way possible.

The project began with originally only two members, me and Fong Chin. On the first day, we set to work on the backend of T2Biz, using Twitter’s API to sign in and provide user (Company) information. Then we integrated Twilio’s and SendGrid’s API — each company that signs up is provided their own number and email (twitterhandle@t2biz.com). Every text message and email that gets sent to that address and number will show up on the company’s page on a real-time feed using the Pusher API. Our friend Bill Ma came to join us around noon the second day. He helped design the front-end, while Fong and I finished the back end. Geetha Ratnam helped us design the wonderful logo.

I was in pure shock and awe as the Developer Evangelists called out “T2Biz” not once, not twice, but three whole times! One for SendGrid, another for Twilio, and the last one for runner-up best IO Hack. This was my personal milestone, and it gave me confidence that I have the ability to code and do wonderful things. Yes. Thank goodness for hackathons.

What made you want to spend your summer learning to program and hanging out at hackathons?

Typical summers consist of summer school, beaches and what not, and that’s how my past summers have been. I wanted something that was infinitely more productive–a summer that I can learn from, and know I will not regret. My brother suggested I go up to San Francisco with him and learn programming. I thought “Hey, why not.” The idea of spending a whole night hacking the night away was actually really appealing the moment my brother suggested I go to my first hackathon. A whole night of productiveness and learning– Bullseye.

My first hackathon was at the Trojan Hack at USC, where I got my first taste of APIs including Twilio, SendGrid, and Mashery (all tech companies that were at IOHack). It was my first hack where I won awards. Since then, I’ve been looking forward to every hackathon that presents itself.

A hackathon to me is a place where I can test out where my code skills are presently at. It also gives me inspiration to code more so I can contribute more to a project. My goal is to attend a hackathon and be able to create a project single-handedly and win a prize. Then I’ll know my code skills have reached half of what I hope to achieve, and then keep on coding. =]

What programming language and APIs are you focused on learning right now?

At the moment, I’m practicing Ruby on Rails. My main focus however is on a long-term project where I make mini-projects for each API that I use (I’m aiming for >2 projects a week). For example, I made a page where people can text me for fun using Twilio’s API, and another where people can donate to my college funds using Stripe’s API. These mini projects allow me to practice HTML and CSS as I make each project’s website look the best it can be, and not just a blank piece of virtual board with a couple of input boxes. Glitter, Sparkles, and Rainbow, here I come! Just kidding.

What are you enjoying most about spending time in San Francisco?

The easy accessibility to the throbbing heart of technology, visiting tech companies, attending hackathons every week, and most of all, being able to exercise self-discipline as I stay at the apartment alone while my brother is working, since my mom is in Los Angeles.

What are you looking forward to most once you head back to LA for your senior year of high school?

Well, if I have look forward to something in LA, I’d have to look forward to going back first, right?

To be honest, if I had a choice I’d much rather stay up at San Francisco in the hub of all technology companies and continue programming. Senior year of high school would basically be comprised of filling out college applications, scavenging for financial aid, and prowling for scholarship opportunities. Bah, just let me code!

However, since I don’t have much of a choice, I look forward to seeing my friends again and leading my FIRST Robotics team1515 to victory at this year’s regional competition with my newly acquired programming knowledge. I also look forward to continue my mini-coding projects.

What are your plans after graduation?

Spend some quality time with my grandparents in China before flying back to San Francisco and dominating hackathons ;]  Hopefully I will get into my top choice university (Stanford), and visit that college while I’m in San Francisco.

Thank you for interviewing me! :D

Eva is in San Francisco until school begins again in the fall. Follow her on Twitter @gowitherz, read her blog and keep a watch for this stellar personality to hit the tech scene like a storm soon.