“I want to change no into a yes. Because yes girls can code. Yes, girls can do whatever they want,” says 12-year-old wunderkind Anna Miller. Find out how’s she’s building a more accessible world.
“I want to change a no into a yes. Because yes girls can code. Yes, girls can do whatever they want,” says 12-year-old wunderkind Anna Miller. A coder, app developer, educator, and accessibility activist, Anna Miller is the definition of modern Renaissance Woman. The fact that she’s a person with Osteogenesis imperfecta feels like a minor detail when she shares the passion that powers her forward. Find out how she’s building a more accessible world and creating an app that could change the lives of millions.
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Taylor Trudon: You're listening to the In Culture podcast. I'm your host Taylor Trudon.
Taylor Trudon: I'm speaking with women from age 12 on about the pivotal moments that inspired their paths, the grit and determination that powers them forward and where they're headed next. I'm really excited to share these inspiring conversations with you on the podcast.
Taylor Trudon: This time I'm speaking with Anna Miller and she's truly a Renaissance woman. And as a coder and app developer, an educator, and as a person with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, she's also an advocate for accessibility and people of disabilities. She'd tell you that the fact she's doing all of this at age 12 is beside the point. And truly her dedication to making the world a better place would be inspiring coming from a person of any age. Anna teaches a course and coding with Minecraft at the Digital Harbor Foundation near her home in Maryland. But her longterm plan, it's to build an app to help people navigate accessibility challenges in public spaces. She's in Mexico right now with her family, so we catch up over Skype about her current projects and big plans.
Taylor Trudon: I find that teenagers, particularly gen Z, they're often not listened to. And I used to be a teen editor and I have worked for years in the youth space. And something that I see over and over again is the stereotype against gen Z, that they're apathetic, they're shallow, they're addicted to social media. But we know that this isn't true. And so I'm wondering why do you think young people are so often underestimated?
Anna Miller: You know the stereotype, or not the stereotype, but the saying, children's should be seen but not heard? I think that's because they think that children just have no idea what's going on, that younger people just don't care about what's going on in the world and that they're "addicted to their phones, don't want to do anything else". But that's not true at all. A lot of young people around the world are changing the world. Some might be animal rights activists or activists for global warming, or coders like me, who just want to make sure the world is more accessible. So I think that, that's why they are underestimated because people think that they're not smart enough as adults and that they're not willing to learn what's going on in the world. And they should know what's going on in the world so that they can be prepared to change it.
Taylor Trudon: I love that. You've already accomplished some pretty amazing things. But I want to rewind just a little bit and talk about the moment when you first discovered coding, which started when you enrolled in a summer technology program near your home in Maryland. Did you know what you were getting into when you signed up for that program?
Anna Miller: So I had no idea what I was getting into. And the funny thing is I didn't actually want to go. I was a little bit nervous, but when I went in, I just felt like a whole flood of opportunities just came rushing towards me. And the class that I was in, it was really awesome. They introduced me to this coding program called Scratch, where you basically move these blocks to create a coding program. It's really cool and I think that was just my aha moment.
Taylor Trudon: Have your friends or are there younger people that have maybe seen what you're doing in the coding space and they've thought to themselves, hey, I want to do something like that?
Anna Miller: So my goal really is to inspire people to try coding, whether they're a boy or a girl or they use a wheelchair. So I'm sure that they definitely are starting to think about that. And most definitely, I do have friends who code already and in my tech space, basically everyone there codes. So I want that message to go around everywhere. And I hope that my other friends can be interested in coding and see all the things you can do with it. Not just surfing the internet or anything, but crazy things that really, really matter in order to change the world.
Taylor Trudon: You're working on an app that could change a lot of people's lives. Can you tell us a little bit more about it and the inspiration behind it?
Anna Miller: So I know that a lot of people have trouble, wheelchair users have trouble getting into buildings because they don't know where the accessible entrance is. And for me, I've missed tours, I've missed classes, I've missed a lot of things because I just spent a whole hour walking around the block trying to find the best accessible entrance. And I want to make sure, I want to create an app where it's easy to find the accessible entrance or an elevator or people even have trouble finding the best bathroom stall that's big enough for their wheelchair. Oh, and you just can actually add their experience. So like, oh, this place was good, but don't go around that corner because that doesn't have a good ramp. Something like that, just to make everyone have an easier time getting into buildings and other places.
Taylor Trudon: I think another common narrative that we hear all the time is that technology is so bad for you, it's ruining mental health, it's destroying society. And while I think it's important to have moderation with technology, I think that you're living proof that technology can be changing and it can change a lot of people's lives. And whether it's by laws or just conversations that people are having, you're proof that technology and coding can be used for good.
Anna Miller: Yeah. The really cool thing about younger people is that they're really much more creative, I think, because adults tend to think of a world as, if they're building an app, they want it to be what everyone's used to, something not really new or exciting. They just want it to be, I don't know, something everyone's used to hearing about. They don't want any crazy ideas. But sometimes the craziest ideas are the best ideas because they can really make a difference, especially when you're joining together to really change the world.
Taylor Trudon: I know that you're an inspiration to so many coders, but I'm wondering what kind of women do you find inspiring and what kind of mentors maybe that you've had so far?
Anna Miller: Yeah, definitely. I've had a lot of women who've inspired me to rise up to the challenge. For example, my teacher, her name is Ms. Ashley. She was the one who helped introduce me to the coding program in Scratch in the summer camp. And she has been really good at making sure everything I do is accessible. She's been really good at making sure I feel safe and included. And she makes sure that we all brainstorm together, whatever we need to do to make sure I can do it. And I think she's just made the class very collaborative and creative and I think that's what coding and other things are all about. So a big thanks to her.
Anna Miller: And of course I look to a women in history too. Ada Lovelace, for example, she was the first woman to discover coding and computer programming. That's really cool. Amelia Earhart, she was the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean solo. And that was in a time when women were very much overlooked and underestimated. And Katherine Johnson, she was an African American woman in a very segregated area. And she was one of the first female African Americans who actually helped NASA take John Glenn and the others to the moon. So that was very incredible for her in a time like the 1950s, the '60s. So there was a lot of women who I've looked up to in order to get to this point.
Taylor Trudon: And to your point, women in history, like Amelia Earhart, they have done incredible things, but it took them a while to get there. And there were a lot of setbacks, I'm sure, that they encountered on their way. And that said, I'm wondering if you've encountered any setbacks on your journey and how you've navigated those?
Anna Miller: I think we live in a world where people say no, like they say no to people with different backgrounds. They say no to people who have disabilities, they say no to girls, because they are all overlooked, they all are underestimated. And I really want to change that no into a guess because yes, girls can code, yes, girls can do whatever they want. A lot of people had told me, no. A lot of people will look at me and think that because I am small and young or that I'm a girl or that I'm in a wheelchair, that I can't do what they can do. But just because my legs might not work as well, that doesn't mean my mind can't. Every time someone says you can't do it, it just pushes you and drives you farther to prove them wrong and to show them that yes, you can.
Taylor Trudon: We've talked a lot about the no's and the obstacles that you've had to overcome to get to where you are today. And I'm wondering what does success look like to you? Is that getting this app built? Is it getting a certain number of accessible entrances installed at a particular location? What does success feel like?
Anna Miller: Success feels like a better world, a better place for people with disabilities and our society too. I want to make sure girls and people with wheelchairs and other disabilities are not overlooked. They're just the same. I mean, we all breathe the same air, we all can have really crazy cool ideas. And it doesn't matter whether we can walk or whether we're a boy or not. That doesn't matter, that doesn't matter at all. All that matters is that you're willing to work hard and that you're willing to be brave to overcome the obstacles that come your way.
Taylor Trudon: I wish that I had your energy. What is the secret?
Anna Miller: I don't know. I'm just interested in so many things because all of it just sounds really cool and I just want to get better and better. That's all I want to do and I want to just change the world
Taylor Trudon: Just like that, and I know that you are.
Anna Miller: Just like that.
Taylor Trudon: Just like that. What advice or success strategies would you offer to maybe a young girl who's listening to this conversation that maybe wants to explore a new trailblazing path like coding or pursue a path that isn't usually pursued by women? What would you say to a young girl who wants to do something like that?
Anna Miller: I would say that you got this, you just go on ahead, you do what ever you want to do. And if people say no, then that is their problem, not yours. And you can just look them straight in the eye and say, yes I can, and just go along with whatever you want to do. You are going to be amazing and you are going to change the world if you just work hard and be willing to have all the opportunities and have allies right behind your back. And I think that you will grow up to be a very, very cool person.
Taylor Trudon: I think that I need to take that part of what you just said and play it every single morning as part of my daily affirmations when I'm getting ready for the day. That's going to be my new thing that I do when I'm drinking my coffee and putting on my makeup. I'm just going to play that on repeat.
Anna Miller: Sounds good.
Taylor Trudon: And lastly, we talked a lot about what you've done to get to this point, but looking ahead into the future, where do you see yourself in 10 years? What does 21 year old Anna looks?
Anna Miller: I think 21 year old Anna would look like a very involved coder, someone who just, like I said many a times, change the world. I think I might even be traveling across the globe, teaching coding to everyone and especially in places where children and kids and girls do not have access to education or computers or anything at all. And I want to make sure everyone spreads the word about how coding is for everybody. That is my motto, coding is for everybody. If you want to be an astronaut, go ahead. Whatever you want to be, just make sure you are willing to be brave, overcome the obstacles and the no's that come your way and help make the world a better place with your allies, with your friends, with your family and with your creativity and willingness to work hard and change the world.
Taylor Trudon: Thank you so much for chatting with us, Anna. Like I said, I can't say it enough how impressed I am with you and how hard you work. I need to have what you're having for breakfast to get me going during the day. We can't wait to see where you'll go from here. And I can't wait to check out the app once it's live.
Anna Miller: Me too.
Taylor Trudon: Thanks Anna.
Anna Miller: Thank you.
Taylor Trudon: To learn more about Anna, visit at microsoft.com/inculture or follow us on Instagram @Microsoftinculture. This episode of In Culture was hosted by me, Taylor Trudon. The podcast is produced by Jordan Rothlein, edited and mixed by Nat Wiener and features original music by Angular Wave Research. In Culture is a production of Microsoft in collaboration with Listen, a sensory experience company in New York City.