Deaf coder one of two Vancouverites among global winners in Apple’s Swift Student Challenge

Anh Pham recognized for audiogram app to make other apps more accessible; Alan Yan taught himself to code using YouTube, online articles, and trial and error

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For such trying times, things have been going pretty well for Anh Pham.

The 21-year-old university student got a fellowship with Apple last summer, which gave her the money to buy her mom her first Apple Watch at Christmas. And then last week she was one of two Vancouverites, along with Alan Yan, to be named winners of Apple’s global Swift Student Challenge.

Pham knows about challenges: She lost her hearing after a high fever when she was one year old in her native Vietnam.

“(The fellowship) involved working on projects relating to hearing accessibility,” she said via Webex using hearing aids and hearing accessibility features

“I found the atmosphere and the people amazing, I had the best manager and mentor I could ever ask for. And I got to surround myself with the smartest people on the planet.”

For the challenge, young developers submit the topic of their choice for Swift Playgrounds, an app for iPad and Mac. Swift is a programming language created by Apple.

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Pham’s submission involved audiograms and making video-chatting apps such as Zoom and audio-chatting apps such as Clubhouse more accessible.

“I think, right now, the tech companies are not very accessible for deaf and hard-of-hearing people,” Pham said. “I’m sure they are working on it, but when they rolled out the product the first time it wasn’t accessible at all.

“It got me to thinking about how tech companies don’t tend to put accessibility at the forefront of their development process.”

Anh Pham is a 21-year-old UBC student who has found independence through coding. As a deaf person she struggles in fast-paced environments, so loves how coding allows her to work at her own pace.
Anh Pham is a 21-year-old UBC student who has found independence through coding. As a deaf person she struggles in fast-paced environments, so loves how coding allows her to work at her own pace. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Pham also encourages people to learn more about hearing health.

“Through that, you’ll understand more about your whole body, your overall health, and come to appreciate what you have.

“You are hearing, so you are very privileged.”

There were 350 winners worldwide, comprising 35 countries, selected as part of Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, student challenge, each demonstrating their coding and problem-solving skills by submitting an original Swift playground to earn a spot.

Over the past three decades winners have gone on to long and successful careers in technology, venture-backed startups, and non-profit focused on using technology to build a better future, according to the tech giant.

“This year, we are incredibly proud that more young women applied and won than ever before, and we are committed to doing everything we can to nurture this progress and reach true gender parity,” Susan Prescott, Apple’s vice-president of Worldwide Developer Relations said.

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Pham is studying information technology at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Vancouver campus on Cambie Street, and has started a programming team called Code4Fun to encourage more Vietnamese women to get involved in programming.

The other Vancouver winner, 20-year-old Alan Yan, studies computer science at UBC and taught himself how to code through YouTube videos, online articles, and trial and error.

Yan loves teaching and inspiring other people to see what he sees in the things that he loves, Apple said in a news release, which led him to work at a summer camp called Byte Camp that teaches coding and game development to kids.

gordmcintyre@postmedia.com

twitter.com/gordmcintyre

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