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A girl who codes

Teaneck student follows her computer dreams

Tali Weisinger of Teaneck connected with her love of math and science through Girls Who Code.
Tali Weisinger of Teaneck connected with her love of math and science through Girls Who Code.

Even when she was in middle school, Tali Weisinger of Teaneck knew that she wanted to chase a career in math or science.

Now, at 18, her dream will become reality. She is going to study computer coding.

Tali has just graduated Bruriah High School in Elizabeth and plans to attend Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim, a seminary in Israel, this year. She first discovered her interest in math and science in middle school at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey. “I knew that I wanted to be involved in the sixth grade ETK math and science program, and I got in,” she said. “We would do puzzles and whoever won got a sweatshirt. I won first place and got one, and it was just the best feeling.”

When she was in tenth grade, Tali was fascinated by computer coding. Her school became involved with the Center for Initiatives in Jewish Education, a nonprofit program whose goal is to upgrade the technology and programs available to Jewish day schools and yeshivot so the education they furnish is cutting edge. CIJE provides teacher training and support, mentors, and organizes programs to make sure that the students are getting the most out of their education. Tali joined the program’s engineering track, and although it was an experimental program, and she thought that it might be difficult for her at first, she was ultimately glad that she stayed involved. “My teacher encouraged me to continue,” she said. “I am so happy that I stayed in the program. I practiced using skills I never even knew I had. We also got to visit Google’s New York headquarters, which was an amazing experience.”

Once she was in the CIJE engineering program, Tali created two project prototypes. One, called EYE.TO, allows ALS patients to communicate with the people around them freely, with a laser acting as the patient’s pointer finger. The laser will point at whatever the patient is looking at; that helps patients ask for what they need. Another creation of Tali’s was the Color Clothing Coordinator, a device that keeps blind or color-blinded people from walking out of the house in mismatched clothing. If it senses that colors clash, it plays a discordant tone; if they match, it plays a happier one. Tali says that she has a particular interest in color blindness and blindness, which inspired her to create the project.

In the summer of 2015, Tali worked at Viacom, the huge media company — in fact, it’s the world’s sixth largest broadcasting and cable company. Viacom, headquartered in Times Square, invited Girls Who Code, a computer coding program for girls going into the tenth and eleventh grades, to visit for a day. That’s how Tali first heard about Girls Who Code. “I was very interested,” Tali said. “I didn’t realize how prestigious the program was. I applied, and when I heard that I got in, I cried.”

Girls Who Code’s mission is to help girls realize that their gender does not affect their ability to work in computer coding, and to help close the gender gap in technology. Girls Who Code was founded by Reshma Saujani, who is its CEO. Ms. Saujani began her career in politics, striving to be the first Indian-American woman to run for the U.S. Congress. This is when she visited schools and noticed the gender gap in computer classes. Her political career did not work out, but instead she founded Girls Who Code for a cause. “She is the sweetest person ever,” Tali said of Ms. Saujani. “She treats every girl in the program like her child and remembers everyone.”

Girls Who Code’s summer program offers seven weeks of intensive instruction in robotics, web design and development, and mentoring from female engineers and leaders. Since she finished Girls Who Code, Tali has become its poster child. She even was featured in the program’s official advertisement video, which received some funding from Samsung; the organization also ran an IndieGoGo campaign. As a student in Girls Who Code, Tali created a video game called “NYC Rush,” in which players jump over tourists in New York and clean up the city. After the player loses the game, facts about New York City appear on the screen. Tali took this project to a showcasing event in New York, where she and three other students presented it. “At first it was very overwhelming and nerve wracking, but soon everyone was congratulating me on my program,” she said. “It was amazing. They all loved it.”

This spring, Tali also was involved in the Yeshiva University Hackathon. The program, arranged by YU’s computer science club, allows computer programmers and software developers to collaborate on projects. She and the others on her team tackled the problem of class scheduling. The program allows students to add classes and see which conflict with each other. Tali’s group won for its program and received a prize.

Tali since has become a teacher’s assistant at Girls Who Code, helping to teach computer science curriculum to 20 high school girls. She supports the teacher in classroom discussions and helps maintain an enthusiastic classroom environment. She also tutors middle schoolers in computer science after school, starting from scratch and teaching them the basics of coding. “I love teaching so much,” she said. “I want to inspire them like Girls Who Code inspired me.”

Tali said that her friends and her family support her. “I even helped my friend from SAR High School, Rachel Fishman, get involved in Girls Who Code,” she said proudly. “Girls Who Code is growing so much, but is still such a personal place. It is my safe space. It helped me not only with coding, but also with public speaking and working as a team.”

Outside of the Girls Who Code program, Tali also is beginning to plan out her future. She has three older brothers, a younger sister, and two sisters-in-law. One brother is in the Israeli army. Tali is enrolled in her Israel program through Touro College, and she is considering moving to Israel.

Wherever she ends up, Tali knows that she will always have a place at Girls Who Code. “They are like a sisterhood,” she said. “Once you are a part of it, you never leave. You will always be welcomed back.” She is open to whatever the future will bring, but in the meantime, she is very happy pursuing her dedication to Girls Who Code. “I am very passionate about this cause, and am so glad to be a part of it,” she said. “Right now, I am in the place where I am supposed to be.”

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