Maya Frai: Myoutlines

Maya’s an undergraduate at Cornell – she developed an iOS app, Myoutlines, that provides AP students with outlines to help them study. Here’s her journey.

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In high school, the best study strategy to handle my overwhelming course load was to outline chapters in AP textbooks for all of my classes. Whether it was for biology or history, summarizing concepts in my own words was the easiest way to consolidate dense information. As I started to accumulate more and more outlines on my hard drive, friends started asking me if they could use my outlines to review topics for exams and essays. I welcomed the idea and started to share them. Frustrated with having to use multiple platforms to share my outlines— from Facebook to Google Drive to email — I decided to make a website. I initially created the site for my local high school, but soon after I created it, high school students from all over the world started to view and download my study guides. As of today, myoutlines.com has over 300K users and subscribers and is #1 Google page-ranked for search keyword “AP outlines.” But, it doesn’t stop there.

Reviewing the website’s analytics over time, I noticed that a large number of users were accessing the site through their mobile phone. I realized making an app would be beneficial, however, I didn’t know the first thing about app development. When I first arrived at Cornell, I enrolled in an iOS development course and began designing and developing the Myoutlines app. Throughout the course, it was not easy to keep up with the advanced instructors explaining UI components like it was 3rd grade arithmetic. And not only was the material difficult to grasp, the room full of male developers didn’t help my overall morale much. In the beginning, I questioned whether I should be in the room, learning amongst those who were already enrolled in higher-level computer science courses. But throughout the semester, I focused on the main thing that was important to me, the driving force that motivated me to take the course in the first place. Even when I would find myself being scoffed at or “brogrammer’d at” (I made that up) for asking a “silly” question during office hours, I wouldn’t even pay them a glance. My goal was to build an app not only for myself, but also for my users.

After constant visits to office hours and weekly projects, I finally mastered the skills I needed to start developing my own app. But of course, the challenge didn’t end when the course did. Designing and developing the app came with its own many frustrations. Not only was I a newbie at Swift, but also in UX design. The time that I was not working in XCode, I was designing in Sketch. While ensuring a minimalistic design, I was also conducting UX research to meet the many design guidelines for education apps. While trying to meet my initial design expectations, I struggled with compiler errors of all kind. I’m not going to lie and say that I always knew what I was doing–because I didn’t. I struggled with nitty-gritty errors as well as large-scale server issues that once led me to believe that my entire project was gone. But, thanks to the open source community as well as my instructors, iOS development resources and libraries, my app was continuously improving.

When developing and designing the app, I not only learned how to work on my skills and become a better programmer, but I also discovered that no one can get in the way of something you set your mind to. At Cornell, I am constantly in contact with male peers who undermine my abilities and misjudge me based on my gender. But this is something that all women can help improve. As one of the vice presidents of Women in Computing at Cornell, I work with an incredibly talented and powerful group of women that strive everyday to reduce the gender gap and advocate for every woman aspiring to pursue a career in technology, whether it be through product design, software engineering, or product management. For any woman trying to make their first app, develop a website, or even take their first computer science class, I strongly encourage you to keep moving forward, regardless of anyone or anything that is working against you. To make a change, we all have to contribute something and we are all capable of being a part of that change. Not only am I proud to say that I released Myoutlines on the App Store, but I am also humbled to be the one able to further my passion project and contribute something to the women in technology community.

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