The Future Is Vivian Phung: The Student Coder Who's Helping People Find Gender Neutral Bathrooms

Photo Courtesy of Vivian Phung.

Photo Courtesy of Vivian Phung.

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Vivian Phung, a rising Sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, is using her computer science skills for good. After meeting a friend who struggled to find a bathroom that fit their gender identity, Phung and a team of student coders came up with the idea for GNR: Restrooms for All, an app that helps users find gender neutral restrooms across the United States. Phung, who has a disability herself, says helping people fulfill a basic human need in comfort is her biggest accomplishment yet. 
We spoke to Phung about how she found her passion for computer science, how GNR: Restrooms for All came to be and how else she is advocating for a more inclusive community. Then, she shared her best advice for finding a passion project that really makes a difference. 
How are you making an impact on your school or local community?

I'm the co-founder and developer of GNR: Restrooms for All, an app that finds gender neutral restrooms anywhere in America. Helping anyone find a restroom that fits their gender identity and makes them comfortable is the biggest impact and the most rewarding feeling I have ever had the pleasure to work on. 
As a freshman at Bryn Mawr College, I was the President of the Girls Who Code College Loop Club and the #BUILTBYGIRLS Ambassador on campus and in the San Francisco Bay Area. As someone who is proudly part of a sisterhood of strong women, I love hosting events (ie. at EventBrite HQ), club meetings, sharing opportunities on social media, and maybe along the way, inspiring others to do the same. In high school, I worked a lot on local policy and helped my hometown, Hayward, rewrite their Anti-Discrimination Plan as the Accessibilities Sub-Committee Co-Chair.  
What made you passionate about the project or role that's allowing you to make a difference?

One of my best friends (and teammates) had a difficult time finding restrooms that fit their gender identity. Our team could not understand why there were not any up-to-date apps on the market for people like our friend to feel comfortable fulfilling a basic human need. So, we created one. The world is not perfect. If you want to change things, and have the opportunities to do so, you need to be proactive and actually start doing something. Every action counts.

How did you start GNR: Restroom for All?

The summer before my senior year, I attended the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program (SIP) at Facebook HQ where I learned to how to code, found sisterhood and was taught to be brave. After SIP, I sent my SIP final project to a #BUILTBYGIRLS program seeking venture capital funding and attended the Kode with Klossy Level 1 Scholarship Camp, where my team and I found each other to create GNR: Restroom for All. 

What is an accomplishment you're proud of?

When we presented our final project at Kode with Klossy, GNR: Restrooms for All was the only application that did not work constantly (and if it did, it took fifty seconds to load). My proudest accomplishment is working as a team to finish the application. Every time someone tells me they use it, I feel so happy. Even with rudimentary computer science skills, we made a difference in someone’s life. We won the 2017 Congressional App Challenge for California’s 13th Congressional District, and presented our app on Capitol Hill. I cannot even imagine how the future of diverse computer science talent will change the world. 

What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?

I have a disability. I am not afraid to admit I have failed a grade or that I am far from perfect. It’s not a shortcoming; it’s a superpower, which has strengthened me more than it could ever hurt me. If my challenge has taught me one thing its failure isn’t failure if you get back up.

What advice do you have for women who want to make a difference at their school?

Don’t join "x-number" of clubs or activities and expect to have to have "x-amount" of impact. From my experience, I recommend finding your passion, then prioritize it. Apply for a leadership position, or if there isn’t a club, create one. In my opinion, I believe being a large part of one or two things is going to make a bigger difference than being a smaller part of, say, five.

Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? Why?

The sisterhood. They always support me — from helping me with computer science when I am stuck to attending events together. We can ask each other for advice or help on anything and someone will provide it. That’s why sisterhood is so important.

Lightning Round: What's Your Karaoke Song?

“You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift.

Lightning Round: What's Your Favorite Book?

A childhood favorite is “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan.

Lightning Round: What's Your Favorite Movie?

I don’t really enjoy movies; they end so quickly, and I get invested in the characters. I love Sci-Fi TV shows, and my current favorite is "Doctor Who."

Lightning Round: What's Your Favorite Quote?

"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution." — Albert Einstein

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