Photo: Courtesy of Jennie Lamere
Have you ever had that thing where you straight-up have to kibosh Twitter on certain nights because everyone you follow is The Worst when it comes to spoilers? I'm a binge-watcher vs. an appointment viewer so Sunday nights are dicey since that's when 92.7% of the people on my feed turn into freakin' comedians when it comes to cracking on PLOT POINTS and PORTENTOUS DIALOGUE as if it doesn't count as a spoiler when it absolutely does.
Of course, I say this with love because the flipside is that I'm the weirdo who hoards shows and watches multiple seasons at 3 AM as if this is acceptable behavior for an adult human. Anyway, all the ire can finally desist because this incredible genius, Jennie Lamere, invented a browser plugin called Twivo that, get this, BLOCKS ALL THAT INCONSIDERATE NOISE based on tags, keywords, your show title and character names like, Joffrey B****face Baratheon.
Jennie is 18 years old, just finished high school (we talked Friday, which was her LAST DAY and her birthday woo hoo!) and created the software at a hackathon in Boston last month where she SMOKED all the dude competitors and won working solo. She was the only female to submit a completed project and even then one of a very few women who entered in the first place and when we heard about her at MTV Style, we were so inspired that we all dropped our regular beats (romper market research and Rihanna hair, obvi) to stalk her online. Jennie's favorite shows are Dance Moms and Pretty Little Liars but she has a slew of other hobbies as well (like the ROBOTICS team), so we caught up with her to talk about how she got into coding, what it feels like at a hackathon when you're under a deadline and what she's learned so far.
Mary HK Choi: First of all, you are revolutionizing my entire television-viewing life so thank you. I'm grateful.
Jennie Lamere: Oh, well. Sure.
MHKC: How did you get the idea for Twivo in the first place?
JL: It was a few days before the Boston hackathon and I was like, "Ugh, what should I do?" And my dad mentioned something about Twitter, and I just started thinking, "Oh man, I always get these spoilers on Twitter. If I could do something to fix that, that would be great." So it just came to me.
MHKC: Who's on your Twitter feed?
JL: I generally follow my friends and people on Dance Moms and Pretty Little Liars so when they're live-tweeting, I see all that. We only have basic cable, so I have to wait for Hulu or Netflix, so this program for me was really useful.
MHKC: For a total programming layperson like myself, can you walk us through the process of coding something like this?
JL: I just broke the problem up into smaller projects. So first, I got it to work where you just block the Tweets. Then, later, I added the replay mode.
MHKC: Oh, cool. So you don't just preemptively block all Twitter spoilers, you can then read what your friends said later.
JL: Exactly. You can’t see the Tweets at first, but they come in when you're watching the show later.
MHKC: Right, so you can catch up and still be a part of the dialogue.
MHKC: So how did you get your start?
JL: My dad's a developer so I've been tagging along with him to hackathons for a few years but this is the first thing that I've done one by myself. (full disclosure: MTV Digital works with The Echo Nest, where Jennie's dad Paul is Director of Developer Platform.)
MHKC: Were you at all nervous before your first solo mission?
JL: I was nervous before I started writing, but as it came together I knew, like, "This is a good idea. This is going to work."
MHKC: You were in the zone?
JL: I was in the zone.
MHKC: Did it feel fast?
JL: Definitely. I got trapped in a problem and realized later that I spent two or three hours solving a really small problem.
MHKC: Were you always interested in programming?
JL: Yeah. My dad and I go on a lot of hikes together, and he would tell me about all of his projects. I came up with an idea for one so I went with him to a hackathon and we worked on it. He did most of the work, but every one we went to after, I just did a little more each time. And now I can do them completely on my own. But it's mostly been this year. This past hackathon was what made it like, "Oh, this is a good career for me."
MHKC: What was that first idea and how did it work?
JL: It was called Jennie’s Ultimate Road Trip. You put in the start location and the end location, and you put in what kind of music you like. It comes up with a road trip for you based on concerts during that time.
MHKC: What kind of music do you listen to?
MHKC: Are your besties into tech stuff like you are?
JL: Not really. It all seems like voodoo magic to them, but they think it's cool.
MHKC: I heard a couple of them are beta testing Twivo. How did you decide who to give it to?
JL: I gave it to anyone who asked. Only two of my friends have it because they were like, "That's so cool, I neeeeeeed that!" So I was like, "Oh I'll just put it on your computer for you."
MHKC: Awesome. So what's the vibe like at hackathons where a lot of the time you're one of the only girls?
JL: I've only gotten positive feedback for being a girl. I think it helps my hacks stand out because they remember me if I'm the only girl. People are friendly, so it's never been a problem for me to go up to someone and ask for advice.
MHKC: Any advice for a girl who might want to get her start but maybe doesn't have a dad who's already a programmer?
JL: I learn as I go, and I learn about new languages and new problems as I need to. I've partnered with my da, but I've also partnered with friends. Coming up with an idea that you're passionate about is the hardest part, but once you're interested in something, it just becomes so much easier to work on it. Just work with someone who knows more than you, so they can give you some knowledge. I hope people will see that you don't have to be an old guy to write programs.
MHKC: How much time does programming take out of your normal week?
JL: This program was ten hours, but it's just whatever. Some weeks I won't code at all. Some weeks I code every night. It all depends on how inspired I feel by the project.
MHKC: I heard people are throwing offers and internships at you. Where do you want to work after college?
JL: I wouldn't say a particular company, but I've always been a big fan of Apple and Google. I just want to work at a cool tech company.
MHKC: What is it about your brain that's good at this sort of stuff?
JL: Programming is all about logic, so if you like solving riddles, you could be a good programmer.
MHKC: And you're also on the robotics team?
JL: My school doesn't have a team because I go to an all girls school, so I'm on the neighboring private school's team. I loved being involved in all aspects of the team—mechanical and the programming—but this year, I was mostly doing outreach and community service, so people could know what we do.
MHKC: That's awesome.
JL: I was also captain of my swim team.
MHKC: Wow, so you're a jock, too?
JL: A lot of my teachers say I'm kind of like a renaissance girl. I'm not a typical geek, I'm pretty well-rounded.