inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: DJ Richardson

“I try to live in a little bit of my own joy and not let people steal it or take it.” -Hoda Kotb

Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
My name is DJ and I’m carrying the wheel. While I was born in Wisconsin, my most formative years were in Winchester, KY, the home of Ale-8-One, a beer cheese festival, and American Pharaoh! I started coding in high school when I left Winchester to go to the Gatton Academy of Mathematics and Science when I was required to take a course in Java. I fell in love. Computer science combined all of the creating I experienced as an excitable creative writer and my infatuation with patterns in STEM disciplines. Since my first course was in Java, object oriented design fascinated me. Translating problems into smaller problems and then creating modular code that broke those tasks down in operations amazed me. Representing the nouns in those problems as objects and using methods as verbs excited me. It was then I decided I wanted to go into computer science.

That journey would change directions but since my junior year I’ve wanted to create stuff through code. For a while I wanted to do computational chemistry and actually ended up doing computational material science research at a local university. Once I realized I didn’t want to do that, I jumped onto the digital games train and aspired to make the fun educational games I grew up with for the generation after me. Right now I am still interested in game development, but I’m leaning more towards creating tools to enable more people to learn computer science, not just code, and to integrate more problem solving and less memorization into education.

Currently I’m an excitable and pun-loving second year computer science major with a game design minor at Northeastern University in Boston. I enjoy food trucks, bubble tea, and striped sweaters. My hobbies include video games, creative writing, and getting lost in different wikis. I am also a teaching assistant for computer science courses here at Northeastern and involved with Northeastern University Women In Tech.

As for a more exciting fun fact, I asked a guy to prom through a Mathematica button and he said yes.

What # would define your life journey?
#makesomething. As a kid I loved weaving stories using dollhouses and Barbies. I grew up with this one computer game that let you make animated stories based on ancient Egyptian history and I created even more stories. Eventually I branched out into proper creative writing and made new stories and worlds and characters. My journey as a computer scientist has been based around making “things”: objects in Java, GUIs in Mathematica, new metaphors for problem solving as a computer science tutor. Throughout my entire journey I’ve always wanted to make cool things and then share them with other people, whether that is through storytelling or game development or tutoring and hope to inspire other people to #makesomething too.

Favorite website / app:
I really love wikis of the Wikia variety. I know it’s not necessarily a wiki but I feel like it’s a testament to how people will embark on a project out of passion and love for something and not for money. Also the community required to build a proper game wiki is ridiculous and also amazing.

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
Once my Object-Oriented Design professor told our class “We don’t want robots to write all of our code because then there’s no fun in that.” Before the course I knew I loved code because it let me create things and have do things actually do stuff through both logical problem solving but also human creativity. That professor reinforced that computer science is not being able to memorize some concepts and spew them out: it’s about using those concepts to solve problems. To this day, he is one of my greatest inspirations and I joke that one day I want to grow up to be him. His desire to teach, his love of code and problem solving, and overall sense of humor is something I hope to have half of one day.

Song that makes you want to dance:
It’s more of a “sing along and awkwardly dance excitedly with a friend” song but I really love Mr. Blue Sky by Electric Light Orchestra. For a more recent song, really any upbeat song from Hamilton.

Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
At the beginning of my sophomore year, I became increasingly riddled with insecurities: what if I wasn’t good enough to make games? What if I’m not as smart as I thought I was? Am I qualified to teach other people computer science? Do my friends actually like me? Those insecurities wavered throughout my first semester, feeling like a waste of space one moment and feeling like a worthwhile human being the next. That semester I took a course called Rapid Idea Prototyping for Games in which we had to quickly make games based on a prompt twice a week. For our midterm we had to make a game based off of an experience that made us uncomfortable. I ended up going to a talk on sound design in horror movies and found that I was cowering the entire time, hiding behind my beanie to avoid all of the clips the speaker showed. I described this phenomenon as “avoiding eye contact with the presentation.” So I made my midterm game Medusa, in which the player guides a viewfinder over a board looking for tokens. They have to avoid tokens that have a grey background and a red center because that ends the level. I used this tactic to see how players reacted to tokens with grey background but not knowing their centers. In retrospect, it was more a psych experiment than a game. However, through that game I was able to express my qualms with my anxiety to my friends. Even better, I adapted the paper prototype into a Java game using the JavaFX knowledge I acquired from another course I took. It is actually one of my proudest accomplishments and coupled with my friends’ support and counseling I’m doing a lot better. So basically, make cool things. Sometimes it’ll make you feel better.

Ideal Job:
Ideally, I’ll be working for an EdTech company, a worthwhile game studio, or starting my own educational game studio. I’ve always wanted to get into small business and hopefully by 30 I’ll be on my way.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Make cool things. I swear there is nothing more satisfying than creating a new story, program, algorithm, character, properly curved cursive letter, or really anything. If you don’t know what to make, that’s okay. Inspiration is everywhere and you just gotta go out there and find it.

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