June 3, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Insider’s Perspective: The Jennie Lamere Phenomenon

jennie lamere victoria wasylak

Prom night for teen hacker phenom Jennie Lamere, on the left, and the author, Victoria Wasylak, on the right.

When we reported on Jennie Lamere’s victory at TVNext Hack, where her Twivo app for watching DVR-ed television without having Twitter on the “second screen” ruin the endings of shows, we had no idea our story would lead to an intense maelstrom of publicity for the 17-year-old hacker, altering if not the course of her life, at least the course of her summer.

Everyone from NPR to the BBC to Fox News and beyond interviewed Lamere after our article posted and especially after Mother Jones followed up on it. Chelsea Clinton even tweeted the version I put on Huffington Post, and it did well on Medium too. Instead of teaching summer camp this summer, Lamere is going to intern at Twitter. This is what can happen when an article goes viral (although, obviously, none of this would have happened if she hadn’t made such a great hack).

The Jennie Lamere phenomenon is real, and resonates as a broader story in part because it demonstrates how much we have to gain if more women enter technology fields and face a level playing field once they get there. To shed more perspective on the situation, here’s guest post from Lamere’s friend Victoria Wasylak.

 

It’s not every day that your best friend comes into school on a Monday morning and proudly announces that she won a prestigious computer science competition.

My close friend Jennie Lamere has pulled this off three times during her high school career.

“How was your weekend?” I asked in February.

“I’m so tired,” she replied. “I slept on a couch in the middle of a hallway for a few hours. I think some people were laughing at me.”

I look forward to details like that about Jennie’s most recent adventures at hackathons and robotics meetings. In that case, I knew Jennie had spent her weekend pulling all-nighters at Tufts University. She ended up winning the award for Best Rookie Hack, with her friend Barbara Duckworth. Most people in school that Monday were exhausted from writing term papers. Jennie was exhausted from burning the midnight oil to create the computer program Cinemusic and learning a new computer language to write it.

“I beat out this girl who goes to M.I.T. She couldn’t learn the language overnight.” She smiled sleepily and rubbed her eyes, adding, “But I did.”

On a rare occasion when Jennie has some free time, she might tell you about how she spent three hours re-arranging her laptop setup, or wrote a computer program that applies a calculus theorem to do calculations for you. But all of these somewhat brilliant accomplishments went unnoticed by most people besides her friends and close family.

Then Twivo happened.

Wasylak and Lamere

Back in April, Jennie broke the news to me that she had advanced to the final round of the TVnext Hack 2013 via text message. She didn’t tell me flat out, but rather, danced around her win by enumerating her prizes to me (two iPads, two Apple TVs, a backpack, Xbox games and two bottle openers, for the record). After a bit of questioning, she finally admitted that she had won not one but three awards at a hack-a-thon that weekend, and that she had advanced to the finals, where representatives from MTV, NPR, and Twitter would be watching. Not too shabby.

At school, Jennie was the topic of chatter in the hallways, and had to explain to each and every teacher that yes, she had won a computer science competition singlehandedly against teams of college educated men, and yes, she was advancing to the finals that week to present Twivo in front of an enormous, accomplished audience.

If anyone asked her more about the final round of the competition, she would whip out her laptop and list off some of the A-listers that would be present, and the whopping ticket price ($700) that her audience had paid to see her and the other competitors.

She faced all the limelight with a brave face, but beneath it all, she was terribly nervous.

“I have to present in front of professional judges and that huge audience. What am I going to say?” she confided in me on the day of the competition. It turned out that Jennie would end up unabashedly asking for votes so she could win the $2,500 prize and put the money towards college. Apparently, that was the correct thing to say, for Jennie won over the hearts of the audience, and therefore, the competition.

Since Jennie’s big win at the hackathon, it’s not uncommon for our plans together to be affected by her newfound success, from delaying plans due to interviews with TV stations, to going into Boston together for a VIP movie screening at the Museum of Fine Arts.

While most teenagers this summer will vie for jobs at McDonalds, Jennie will be working alongside college students in Boston as a paid intern for Twitter. Having just graduated from the Academy of Notre Dame, Tyngsboro, this Nashua native will then attend the Rochester Institute of Technology as a computer science major in the fall.

And I will eagerly follow her progress, with the hope of someday being her publicist.