Sharon Chen first started to dream of creating her own website while watching her classmates play online games during middle school. Now a junior at Columbia University, where she majors in Computer Science, Chen has built two successful, enduring websites, and continues to come up with new software ideas to pursue in the future.
She takes inspiration both from her own interests and from her surroundings, hoping to create sites that have a positive impact and that others will be able to use for years to come. “I always wanted to create a website that would benefit the entire community around me,” Chen explains.
In high school, Chen’s hope to build a site that could be used by her peers first became a reality when she started ClickPA with three other students. ClickPA is aimed at helping teenagers in her hometown of Palo Alto find local events and activities to take part in. “We decided to come together to make a website because, after talking to other people at my school, we found that many teens in Palo Alto felt there wasn’t a lot to do,” Chen says.
This boredom stemmed not from an actual lack of activities, but rather from the difficulty of finding out about them. With ClickPA, Chen sought to remedy this problem. In addition to an events calendar, ClickPA also features reviews written by teenagers for various places to eat or have fun around the city. “We wanted to have a website built by teens for their fellow teens,” Chen explains. The site continues to be run by current high school students, keeping in line with their goal.
After leaving ClickPA to be taken over by new students, Chen soon began a new project—a novel-writing software called Wordcradle. She started building the site with a high school friend after their graduation, and it quickly became all-consuming. They spent two summers working on the site, creating the front end first, and dedicating their second summer to the most challenging part of the process—building the back end, which consists of the database and server.
“We worked day and night on it and over the weekends, and just being able to work with my friend on a project that consumed my entire life was really rewarding,” she says. The website is a time-management software that helps members set goals and deadlines for completing their books, and motivates writers to meet these targets by awarding them points and featuring them on a leader board. Chen and her team also created a blog to go alongside Wordcradle, called Blogcradle.
In addition to creating the software, Chen has also used it herself. She and her friend were initially inspired to build Wordcradle due to their own wish to one day write a full-length book. “We found that we had the same dream of writing our own novel, so we decided to make a website that would help people like us who had very little time to finish one.”
Thanks to her own software, she was able to finally fulfill her goal of completing a three hundred-page manuscript. “I think without Wordcradle I would never have written my first novel,” she says. Now she provides inspiration on the site to help other writers do the same.
While Chen continues to work as CTO for Wordcradle, perfecting and advertising the website, her next idea could relate to her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta. She recently took part in a female-only hackathon with her sorority sisters, where they had several ideas for apps that would benefit the chapter. “If we go to another hackathon, we’ll probably build an app that helps the sorority and have it be long-term,” she says.
Being able to work with her sisters on a new project is an exciting prospect for Chen, who was one of the few engineering students in her pledge class. In addition to sharing her own interest with them, rushing has also allowed her to form closer connections with non-engineering and female students. “Engineering, and especially computer science, is such a male-dominated field,” she explains. “By joining a sorority, I get to interact with more people who are outside of engineering and have more female friends.”
While the inspiration for her projects continues to change, Chen’s love for computer science can still be traced back to her middle school dream of creating a site that would help her community. “I made hundreds of websites trying to make ones like my peers used, but I didn’t have the technical knowledge to actually make it happen,” she says. “Now, every time I learn something new in Computer Science, or learn about some new technology, I’m very excited because it’s what I wish I had known back then.”