In that first hackathon RevolutionUC, a hackathon hosted by the University of Cincinnati, she won best high school hack for a meme generator that could read people’s facial expressions. At the next one, she built ReBay, reverse-engineering eBay’s commerce model so that the seller dictates the maximum price of the negotiation, driving prices way down. “Bidding then goes downwards and makes shopping faster because people are more likely to want to make money than spend it (like eBay forces you to do),” ReBay’s website reads.
ReBay also resulted in a database of information, lists of buyers, sellers and prices for items, from users from India to Belgium and took third prize out of 320 participants at the 2017 edition of a Cincinnati’s Revolution UC.
But what’s arguably Cui’s greatest achievement to date is the groundwork she’s laid for others like her — coding diamonds in the rough. At her high school, she founded Mason Hack Club and has raised $24,000 as the financial director of Hack Chicago, the Midwest’s largest high school hackathon. As someone who took a long time to see herself as a coder, she knows that embracing your talents sometimes requires others to show you how.
Cui is used to living outside her own comfort zone, but doing so wasn’t always easy. She’s still very aware of how hard it can be to feel like an outsider. Cui, whose parents are Chinese, remembers the day her mother asked her to learn a traditional Chinese instrument called a hulusi. The wind instrument, which looks a bit like a gourd attached to a bamboo stick, seemed outlandish in her small Ohio suburb.
“I wasn’t always proud to be Chinese, and there was this period from sixth to eighth grade where I remember really struggling with ethnicity,” she recalls. Eventually, and at first reluctantly, she learned to master it the instrument, and, to her surprise, noticed that her peers were receptive to learning more about her interesting talents.
It’s moments like she remembers when she tries to recruit new members to the Mason Hack Club or organizes large-scale coding events like CincyHacks or the recent Hack Chicago, which was attended by over 250 competitors. When it comes to the international coding scene, she’s keenly aware that schools like hers are the outsiders compared to the tech cool kids in San Francisco or New York.