DENVER—When Shreya Nallapati heard about Emma González’s now-famous proclamation “We call BS!” at a February 2018 gun legislation rally in Florida, she realized she couldn’t stand idly by and watch more people die in school shootings. She had to do something.
It was just days after a gunman killed 14 of Ms. González’s classmates and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fed up, Ms. Nallapati turned to her online community of young women in technology. She typed a simple but powerful message in a forum she belonged to that’s part of the National Center for Women in Information & Technology.
In all caps, she wrote, “THAT’S IT.” Within one hour, Ms. Nallapati had responses from over 200 young women across the U.S. That was the beginning of #NeverAgainTech—a tech collaborative aimed at stopping mass shootings.
Ms. Nallapati told she-files.com over email that after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, she felt posting “thoughts and condolences” online wasn’t enough. “I wanted to harness the power of the same algorithms that allow people to post ‘thoughts and condolences’ to understand what fundamentally constitutes the anatomy of a mass shooting and ways in which we can detect these factors before they surface in the form of a tragedy.”
Across the top of their website, #NeverAgainTech has a quote: “We shouldn’t be living our lives in constant fear.” Their solution is to bring together people across the U.S. to generate a technological revolution against mass shootings. Since starting #NeverAgainTech in 2018, Ms. Nallapati graduated from high school and now attends university at the University of Denver. Excerpts:
Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp: What challenges have you faced since you started #NeverAgainTech?
Shreya Nallapati: Some of the challenges I have faced include not being taken seriously by adults in the conversation. I found myself engaging with policy-makers, tech CEOs, and others in very limited capacities. However, as the movement with Greta Thunberg [a Swedish teen environmental activist and Time magazine’s 2019 person of the year] and other youth changemakers begins to take shape, I find it as an impetus to continue the work with my team.
What is your experience so far as a young woman in the field of technology?
It has been interspersed with obstacles and achievements. There is definitely a very palpable glass ceiling you encounter, especially while delving deeper into more specialized areas of technologies, whether it be opportunities or various stigmas.
Where are you in the process of developing the #NeverAgainTech technology?
Right now, we are in the process of refining our algorithm, which can extricate tangible threats from hoaxes (social media posts espousing threats to life) with a 70% accuracy. Additionally, we are developing several clustering algorithms that identify prominent patterns in historical cases of mass shootings, specifically in relation to factors such as socioeconomic background, target motive, history of mental illness, military background, relation to the location of the perpetrator.
What’s it like being a college student and running a business at the same time?
There were many moments where I felt like I had to pursue one or the other. I am now learning to prioritize my school work during the quarter, and I pursue #NeverAgainTech during my breaks.
Who are your female role models?
My biggest female role model would be my mom. As the former CIO [Chief Information Officer] for the state of Colorado and the first woman of color on Governor [John] Hickenlooper’s cabinet, her story has been especially motivating for me. The journey of how she traveled from India to the [United] States to unrelentingly pursue her dream shows me how you can retain your identity while pursuing a meaningful career.
What advice would you give to other young women who want to make a difference?
As cliche as it sounds, nothing is impossible. From the moment I conceptualized this idea until now, there were many naysayers who thought it would be impossible. Our story is a constant testament to the power of young people and our ambition to defy and shift the status quo. I am so hopeful for the future.
Photos: Feature image of Shreya Nallapati, body image of the #NeverAgainTech team on a video conference call, both courtesy of #NeverAgainTech.