Code Play

March 11, 2016 — Senior Audrey Kintisch’s eyes sparkle with enthusiasm as she flips open her Lenovo laptop and demonstrates an adventure game she’s been working on. It’s called “An Ordinary Day,” but its development —like Kintisch’s evolution as a budding computer scientist — is anything but ordinary.
Kintisch has liked math and science since childhood, when she took natural science and robotics courses and joined her middle school’s math team.
 
Kintisch took her first serious steps into the world of binary computer code at NMH, immersing herself in every opportunity to learn more. “I took Introduction to Java programming my freshman year here, and fell in love with it,” she recalls. From then on, Kintisch and her computer were practically inseparable.
 
This year, an AP Computer Science course and an independent study in web design have given Kintisch the time and faculty support to do “everything I’ve wanted to do for years.”
 
AP Computer Science teacher David Warren showed her how to structure code that was “more elegant and functioned more efficiently” than she could devise on her own, and he often stayed after class to brainstorm with her. “It would be hard to find another student who’s progressed as far in computer science as Audrey has,” says Warren. “She has become a kind of evangelist to other students about computer science.”
 
“NMH faculty are so willing to help students,” Kintisch says. “Once you express interest in something, they just throw opportunities your way.”
 
When the NMH Admission Office was looking for a way to give prospective students’ families estimates of what financial aid they would qualify for, Warren suggested that Kintisch build a financial aid estimator. Her code is now in daily use on the school’s website.
 
Another opportunity was a recent hackathon held at MIT, with college students mentoring dozens of high school students who traveled to the Cambridge campus from across New England. In 10 hours, Kintisch and three other NMH students created a text-based adventure game called “An Ordinary Day.” Her teammates designed the game’s look and coded it in HTML, and Kintisch turned their vision into reality with Google App Engine for Python. 
 
Mathematics Department Chair Kate Hoff said Kintisch “really shone” at the hackathon by encouraging the newer programmers to take the lead on the front end while she wrote the back end in Python.  “Watching her orchestrate this team effort by skillful and natural communication and mentorship with the group and lead the team's presentation to the MIT judges, I can't think of a single tech company that wouldn't want to have her as a project lead,” Hoff said.
 
When NMH recently made 3D printers available to students, she learned how they worked and taught both students and staff how to use them. Over spring break, she worked on a related personal project. Kintisch was born with a short left arm, and can’t easily grasp round objects with her prosthesis. Her goal is to 3D print an add-on that will let her to pick up a drinking glass or ice cream cone with her left hand as easily as with her right one.
 
A spring independent study project with Hoff taught Kintisch to use at least four programming languages to design and build web pages from scratch.  Not content with designing layouts, as many website generators help users to do, she wanted to learn what goes on behind the scenes.  For her final project, she is creating a site that she hopes will let NMH students easily buy and sell used textbooks.
 
She also explored ciphers, which are used to encrypt, or scramble, messages. Kintisch harnessed computing power to quickly encode and decode various kinds of ciphers, and created a program that attempts to identify which cipher was used to create an encrypted message. She tested the program by exchanging secret messages with a friend in Pennsylvania.
 
“I love so much about coding,” she says. “I can create really amazing, useful things and share them easily with people. Coding combines science, math, creativity, and organization in one wonderful package.”